As you read this, the Alberta provincial election is over. I wrote and posted this on election day, so I didn’t know the results. I could have waited to find out but chose not to.
If you care about this election, you already know how it turned out. Whether I’m pleased or not with the outcome, sharing that is irrelevant as it’s a done deal. Everybody gets one vote, and hopefully, those eligible to mark an X made the time to do so.
Some will say that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain, but that’s a laughable premise. Who’s enforcing that rule?
I could have written this before election day to encourage people to get out and make a difference, but to imagine I have that much influence over anyone would be arrogant.
I’ve drawn a lot of election cartoons this month. Some of them are fun, but I’m glad it’s over. With biased polls, polarizing messages, and outright lies and promises, I always wonder how anybody believes any of them.
But then, we still get spam email and phishing phone calls because enough people keep clicking links and revealing their credit card numbers for the scammers to keep making money.
The same goes for politics.
No matter which political party you support or oppose, they all play the same games and work from the same script. Long on promises and short on delivery, they tell you what you want to hear to either get the job or keep it. Then you only see them when there’s a ribbon to cut or a firehall to open, anything with a good photo op.
We all have biases and blind spots in every part of our lives. They know this, and they exploit it. It’s a flawed system, but until something better comes along, it’s the one we’ve got. And while it’s not sexy or exciting, it’s each person’s job to hold our elected officials accountable.
You might have to write a letter, send an email, or call their offices and your local editor or reporter. You don’t need to write well to do it, and you don’t need to swear and insult their parentage. All you need to do is tell them why you’re angry, disappointed, frustrated, or feeling betrayed, in simple terms and short sentences.
They’re spending your money. Elections are when they’re hired or fired, but these people work for you all year long. And when you don’t get results, keep at them until you do.
If your candidate doesn’t win, the person who did is still your representative and answers to you. On the other hand, if your candidate did win, it’s even more important to make sure that you remind them they can easily lose it next time if they don’t live up to their promises.
If they suddenly shift gears and blame their inaction on Ottawa or the previous government, then you’re just another victim of a scam that keeps working election after election.
Political engagement is more than liking and sharing memes on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram.
Canmore sits in a narrow valley framed on both sides by tall peaks. There are mountains everywhere you look.
As I write this, however, the smoke here is so thick that I can’t see any.
The Bow Valley becomes a bottleneck; the wind usually comes from the west, bringing the warm Chinooks in winter. So if the B.C. interior is on fire, we often get their smoke. Some summers, it’s a light haze with a faint campfire smell. But when it’s bad, we can’t open our windows. That’s tough to take when it’s 30 degrees Celsius, often at the peak of forest fire season.
This smoke has come from the north and east.
Alberta has fire activity each year, often in the northern part of the province, but in dry conditions, fires can pop up anywhere.
My wife grew up in a little town called Fox Creek. We usually have to tell people where it is, a 2.5-hour drive northwest of Edmonton. But the town has made headlines this month for the large fire that forced its evacuation almost two weeks ago.
Several towns and communities in northern Alberta have been evacuated as forest fire season started like a bomb this year and way too early. Shonna’s father and stepmother have evacuated, as have family and friends.
Until you’ve been told to pack quickly and get out of your home, you can’t understand the stress of it.
Ten years ago, we evacuated our condo for a once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully) flood and rain event. It caused a lot of damage to Canmore, Exshaw, High River and Calgary, among other municipalities. We were fortunate to return to our home as we left it after only three days. Unfortunately, I have friends who weren’t so lucky; they were out for weeks and months.
Before 2013, if you suggested an evacuation-level threat around here, most people would have assumed fire.
Even with that small level of experience, I can’t imagine the stress these recent fire evacuees are enduring. Two weeks out of your home, watching the fires on the news as they get closer, often from hours away in shelters or homes in unfamiliar communities, not knowing when or if you’ll be able to return.
Firefighters from all over Canada and the U.S. have arrived to help, Canadian Armed Forces members have been deployed, and volunteers and homeowners are working in challenging situations to save homes, towns and livelihoods.
From the B.C. Wildfire Service, “Most wildfires in B.C. are started by lightning strikes. When lightning strikes an object it can release enough heat to ignite a tree or other fuels.”
“The most important thing about human-caused wildfires is that they are preventable. The easiest way to fight a wildfire is to prevent it from starting. Humans start wildfires in several ways, either by accident or intentionally. For example: open burning, vehicle and engine use, industrial activity, fireworks, sky-lanterns, outdoor flame lighting, discarding burning items (cigarettes), arson.”
Wildfires are destructive enough. But what bothers me most is how so many use these disasters to further their agendas, political or otherwise.
One of the big reasons I left social media was the overabundance of speculation and conspiracy theories that pollute every situation.
While these fires are raging, Alberta is in a provincial election. It’s part of my job to draw editorial cartoons on these issues, so I must follow this emotionally charged right vs. left conflict.
Some supporters of BOTH political parties accuse the other of deliberately starting these fires to win votes. People in the energy sector are accusing environmentalists of starting fires to destroy the oil patch. Climate change activists use the fires to trumpet their agendas, and deniers share cherry-picked links to debunk them.
Political candidates are falling all over themselves to look serious, compassionate and concerned in front of any camera they can find while accusing their opponents of grandstanding and opportunism for the same behaviour.
Meanwhile, everybody else shares these links, videos, and photos so they can feel like they’re important or part of the story.
Clearly, we learned nothing from the pandemic.
Amid all this noise, people out of their homes haven’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks, they’re unable to work, their kids are out of school, and whatever problems they already had are compounded. They’re scared, vulnerable, and feeling helpless. Their world is falling apart, and they can do nothing about it.
Rather than provide solace, online armchair quarterbacking and political theories only add to their stress.
Everybody knows life is more important than possessions. But it provides no comfort to tell a senior who worked their whole lives for the things that symbolize their safety and security that they can always replace it. Unless you’re physically helping them rebuild their homes and replace their furniture, dishes, clothing, vehicles, electronics, and memories, telling them ‘it’s just stuff’ accomplishes one thing.
It proves you’re an asshole.
If your dinner on the stove suddenly ignites, you don’t grab your phone and record a TikTok video. You don’t check for appliance recalls or dissect the political leanings of the CEO of the company that made the frying pan. You don’t share a Facebook post that the timing of this kitchen fire seems awfully suspicious since you usually don’t eat dinner until later. You don’t start a Tweet thread that PETA has been sabotaging chicken feed at the hatchery to make poultry catch fire more easily.
In 2013, when the Bow Valley experienced severe flooding, we had to evacuate our home. Unable to take personal vehicles, my wife and I left with a backpack and suitcase each, our cat in a carrier, and we walked down the street to the yellow school bus that would take us to the other side of the floodwaters.
We didn’t know the extent of the threat, but authorities said the water might reach our home or cause a landslide above us. When the firefighters showed up and told us to go, we went.
We didn’t know if it was necessary but didn’t want to be the people you see on the news, sitting on the roof of their house, pleading for rescue.
Three days later, we came back to our home just as we’d left it, with gratitude and relief.
In the days following, this community rallied to support friends and neighbours whose homes hadn’t fared so well. Plenty of folks helped with the clean-up, businesses supplied food for volunteers, and valley residents proudly proclaimed that we were all in this together. The crisis brought out the best in people.
These days, we’re fighting about face masks, arguing about conspiracy theories, pretending we’re righteous and justified, and treating frontline workers like shit.
Same people, different circumstances.
When all of this is over, there will be many relationships that don’t survive it. I’ve got a few friends and family members whose company I won’t be seeking. It’s not that I don’t support their right to a difference in perspective. I make a good chunk of my living drawing my own opinion in editorial cartoons. In some countries, my job might land me in jail or blindfolded up against a wall.
Freedom to express opposing views is important.
What I’m no longer willing to tolerate, however, is the name-calling, the shouting, the unnecessary conflict, the seizing of every opportunity for many to call their friends and family stupid.
Few were comfortable with the strict isolation measures we had to endure, and the restrictions under which we’re still living. Many have fed that discomfort by going online each day, looking for a fight, spending their precious limited time desperately trying to prove their superiority. They do this by sharing real and fake news stories, passive-aggressive memes, and ‘share if you agree’ posts, all designed to widen the divisions between us.
This situation is frustrating. I get that.
Many of us are afraid, even if we don’t want to admit it. I get that, too.
But taking it out on the people around you will only ensure that when we can see each other freely again, you might end up lonelier than the time spent in isolation.
When was the last time you changed your mind about an issue because somebody called you an idiot? Kicking somebody repeatedly when they’re already down makes you a bully. Expecting them to thank you for it is delusional.
Ironically, some will spend hours online blaming the government for being manipulative, controlling, and stealing our rights. Meanwhile, they’re complaining on Facebook and Twitter, companies that have openly admitted to using our private information against us for profit.
It’s hypocrisy to log on to social media to call someone else a sheep.
People are scrambling to find any information online to back up their preconceived notions and beliefs, giving little pause to consider the sources, despite their assertions that they’ve done their research. We ignore anything that contradicts our bias and post whatever we can find that supports it. The right accuses the left of cherry-picking information, while the left accuses the right of the same.
Your politician is a crook; mine will save us all. Your facts are fake; mine are truth. I’m a critical thinker; you’re a sheeple.
It doesn’t mean you give up fighting for important issues. But maybe it means you stop to consider that you’re complaining to people who either already agree with you or are alienating and browbeating people who don’t deserve it.
There are three little words that most people avoid saying because it makes them feel vulnerable.
I don’t know.
Do masks make a difference? Are we being given accurate information? Will there be a safe vaccine anytime soon? Will the economy recover this year or next? Will my business survive? Will I lose my job?
I don’t know.
Does arguing about it all day online get me any closer to answers? Will posting bad news articles over and over and over again change anything for the better? Will antagonizing memes and confrontational posts make my friends and family feel better about their already difficult situation?
There’s a lot of anger. I feel it, too.
Over the years, when frustrated and feeling helpless, I’ve tried venting, ranting and raging online. I even convinced myself that it made me feel better, but all it did was make me cynical and bitter. Anger begets anger.
I’ve also tried bottling it up. All that did was give me psychosomatic physical problems. Back pain, neck pain, jaw pain, headaches, stomach issues, insomnia. And eventually, I’d reach a breaking point and explode anyway.
I don’t know what the answers are. I’m still looking for them. A wise man once said, “Being human is a complicated gig.”
(Fine, it was a character on Northern Exposure, but I’m going with it.)
As I get older, I realize that things I was certain of yesterday, I’m less sure of today.
The answer to a lot more questions is, “I don’t know.”
But I do know that throwing shit at your friends, family and neighbours, just so you feel safer and more certain, does more damage to yourself than to anyone else.
It doesn’t seem like too long ago that I took a break from the blog, newsletter and Instagram. I realized this week, however, that it’s just a few days shy of two months, which feels like long enough. I’ve got a longer post coming shortly about the break, but I figured I’d ease into it today with a few updates.
I’ve completed two new paintings over the break, with a third that I’ll finish in a day or two. Here’s the first one…Gold. I took the reference for this painting over two years ago, while up at the cabin that friends and I rent near Caroline. As with many of my paintings, there’s often quite a bit of time between taking the reference photos and using them. I found this painting a little intimidating as I find horses especially challenging, but I’m pleased with how it turned out. This was completed about a month ago.
As always, if you’d like to share my work, please do, with my thanks.
Here’s a closer look.
In recent weeks, many communities have made it mandatory to wear a mask. A month ago, I often felt like a conspicuous minority when wearing mine in the grocery store, but now it seems like anyone not wearing one is the outlier.
I’m at home most of the time, but Shonna has seen quite a few people wearing the masks featuring my artwork. I’ve had friends, family members, and newsletter followers send me pictures, too. From displays at stores to family outings in full mask regalia, I’ve enjoyed seeing those.
Many have said they get compliments on the masks (I have as well), and people are asking them where they can buy some. The initial pre-orders went well, the first two resulting in substantial orders, the third one quite a bit smaller, but a clear indication that those who follow my work got what they needed. Lately, I’m receiving more inquiries.
While I could do another order, I don’t think it’s necessary. You’d order masks from me; I’d place an order with Pacific Music and Art, they’d ship them to me, then I’d send them to you. At the beginning of this adventure, the printing and delivery pipeline was shaky, there were bugs to work out, and we were all still learning the ropes. In that climate, the pre-ordering worked well.
Now, Pacific Music and Art has a streamlined system for efficient ordering and delivery, both for individuals and retailers, and I’m advising people to buy directly from them. You’re still supporting my artwork because I get a royalty from each sale.
Shopper’s Drug Mart in Canmore has a nice selection of my masks, and I’d encourage Bow Valley residents to support that local business.
Shonna’s Mom and her husband came down for the day on the weekend. When they came over for dinner, they said they saw my masks in some stores in Banff.
A friend of mine (thanks, Fred!) sent me this photo of one of the large mask displays at the Calgary Zoo. They’ve got a few new designs, too. With all that in mind, I’d encourage you to support these and other retailers currently selling my work, rather than do another order myself right now.
Even though many of my newspapers still haven’t hired me back, I’ve been drawing the same number of cartoons each week. My clients are used to having a wide selection to choose from, so it didn’t seem fair to deprive them of that, especially since they’ve kept me in groceries this summer. While I draw them every day, cartoons are posted weekly on my site, either on Wednesdays, Fridays or both.
As you read this, I’ll have re-installed the Instagram app on my phone and iPad to start posting images again and see what’s been going on with my friends and fellow creatives. I’m not looking forward to being back on social media, but promotion is part of the business, which will be the subject of a forthcoming post, possibly in the next few days.
I hope you’ve all been well, as we adapt to…whatever this is becoming. With the US election powered up, the Canadian Parliament prorogued, the ongoing debate about masks, COVID cases up and down, and whatever other steaming piles of excrement 2020 has yet to serve up for our consumption, I’d ask that you ponder the following.
This is tough for everybody. Each of us is dealing with our unique challenges. Before sharing passive-aggressive memes, angry political rants, and self-righteous nastiness, please reconsider. Given how social media works, chances are you’re only sharing that stuff with people who agree with you anyway, preaching to the choir as it were.
Speaking from experience, you won’t make yourself less angry by feeding that insatiable beast. Consuming and sharing bad news every day will make you miserable.
There is no doubt that this coronavirus experience has been difficult on everyone. Statistically speaking, those who’ve become sick or have died have been few, compared to the 7.6 billion people on the planet.
And yet, as reasonable voices have tried to explain, the victims of this virus have still been important loved ones to other people. It’s easy to say that a few should be sacrificed for the many, for the good of the economy, but I’ve yet to hear of somebody volunteering their own parents, grandparents or vulnerable loved ones for the COVID-19 gas chamber.
It’s indeed a struggle, to continue to do the right thing, sitting at home, while losing your job, business, savings and other assets, simply waiting for it all to end.
What makes it even harder is that everyone has their own expert opinion on how much isolation is too much, too little, whether or not to wear a mask, if these distance measures are necessary, if the virus has been around for longer than we thought, or is even here at all.
Suddenly, everybody is an armchair epidemiologist, following every news and fake news story, able to give you death by the numbers from every corner of the globe, and freely offering unsolicited advice on what everybody else should do, even though nobody asked.
If I had a nickel for how many people have told me that they’re certain they’ve had COVID-19 already, simply because they had a bad cold or flu this winter, I wouldn’t be worried about my finances right now.
Yes, you might have had it. Many people have. Whose life are you willing to risk to prove it? Then there are the conspiracy theorists, intent on making this situation even worse for everybody else by spreading sensationalist videos and articles, accusing the government, deep state, corporations or individuals of having orchestrated this whole thing. Meanwhile, even a cursory examination of the propaganda reveals that the originators of these messages have their own axes to grind, including books, programs and supplements they’re selling.
We’ve heard certain friends and family members tell us over and over again not to believe the party line and to think for ourselves. Of course, that’s only as long as the thoughts you’ll be thinkin’ don’t disagree with theirs.
And even if there were some truth to any of the ‘it’s all a hoax’ theories, sharing post after post after post (after post after post after post) isn’t going to change any of it. All it will do is piss everybody off, so that when we are allowed to see other people, you’re not going to be at the top of anybody’s list.
Before hitting share on any of this stuff, ask yourself who you’re helping, what you’re accomplishing and why it’s necessary.
As someone who ordinarily spends way too much time in my head, my struggle in all of this has been mental and emotional. My level of optimism is minimal at the best of times, a consequence of whatever amalgam of nature, nurture and personal experiences have coalesced in my middle age to create this current perspective. Don’t forget the secret toxic ingredient of following the news for a living.
When I haven’t been as Pollyanna about this as some would prefer, especially if I’m having a bad day and they just happen to be having a good one (their bad day was yesterday), I’ve been told to ‘Cheer up,’ ‘take a happy pill,’ or ‘it could be worse.’
None of that helps the situation, largely because making somebody feel guilty for having a difficult time will have the opposite effect.
Regardless of COVID-19, somebody will always have it worse. The person who couldn’t make ends meet before all of this doesn’t care that your retirement savings are down. They never had any. The unemployed worker with no access to relief funding doesn’t care that you’ve been down to part-time hours for the past couple of months. The person trying to home school three children and hold down a job, doesn’t care that you had to cancel your vacation or that you’re bored because there’s nothing new on Netflix.
And the person who has been homeless for the past thirty years thinks we should all stop whining.
There’s a meme I’ll see now and then that goes something like, “Yes, they’re First World problems. But I live in the First World!”
Everybody has problems and we all react differently to them. Comparing your grief to somebody else’s and judging them inadequate for not measuring up to your standards is unfair. Just as you feel hurt when somebody doesn’t understand you, so does everyone else.
Each January, because a certain corporation decided to make it trendy, plenty of people in Canada change their social media profile pics and share passive aggressive ‘Let’s Talk’ memes. It’s supposed to be about mental health, but it’s really a marketing campaign, free advertising for a media company.
Right now, when mental health challenges are at their peak, at a time when people are struggling the most, there’s more judgment, finger-pointing, and picking sides than in a federal election. The damage this does to our collective consciousness is far worse than the virus, and we’re all to blame for it.
People are hurting, each in a way that’s uniquely personal to them. Don’t make them feel worse by giving them shit for it.
I follow the news for a living, and at the best of times, it wears on me. A constant diet of negative news is awful for your mental health. I have to limit it as much as I can, or my mind goes down that dark rabbit hole of despair.
Now that many of you are home all day, I know you’re spending a lot of time on the internet, surfing through the horror, continual updates on the global death toll, getting into arguments online about which information is right or wrong, and then sharing news stories to your social media that you think sound right as if your friends aren’t surfing the same news you are.
We do this because it makes us feel like we’re in control and informed, when we all know that we aren’t. In fact, by reading this stuff and sharing it, you’re making yourself even more anxious. When you share it, you’re not making people feel better; you’re making them feel worse. This virus of anxiety we’re all spreading is more damaging than the virus itself.
I’ve been actively avoiding phone calls and conversations with people because the whole discussion just ends up being about the news, this article and that, these facts and those, what Trump said, what Trudeau said, what this doctor said, what this victim said, and the numbers. I end up leaving the phone call feeling worse than before and wished I’d never called or picked up.
I understand it’s the topic on everybody’s lips, we’re all frightened, and we think that by talking it to death, it will make us feel better. Ask any psychologist, and they’ll tell you the opposite.
The media is hurting for revenue right now; they’re fighting each other for your online attention because they’re trying to get advertisers to keep paying them. The only way they can do that is to be upping the tragedy, to find new angles to make you afraid, new headlines to get you to open their link. They will never do that by telling you, “It’s going to be OK.” I’ve always gotten news alerts from multiple outlets; it’s part of my job as an editorial cartoonist, it’s how I know a breaking story is happening, one that I might have to comment on with a cartoon. But in recent weeks, these outlets have been abusing the privilege. I now get multiple BREAKING NEWS alerts from each outlet throughout the day.
The Prime Minister’s been offering a daily briefing from his house because he’s been in isolation since his wife was exposed to Covid-19. CTV was sending me an alert that this was happening, which was helpful. But in recent days, they’ve been sending the alert about a half-hour early, meaning I tune in and have to watch/listen to doomsday coverage I don’t want to hear before I get to the coverage I need to see.
That’s click-baiting. And while I understand it, I resent it. And so should you.
The constant apocalypse feed breeds more anxiety, contributes to depression, and when those two degenerates get a hold of you, you start thinking irrationally and make poor decisions. Spending hours on social media, surfing the news and talking about all of this is not only detrimental to your mental health, but it’s also unsustainable.
I’ve had OCD for years, ever since I was a kid, though I didn’t know it until I was in my early thirties. While I’ve always been mindful of washing my hands, not touching my face, etc., mine doesn’t manifest as germophobia. OCD is much more than that. It’s about control, worrying, ruminating, fear, and anxiety. After I went for groceries yesterday, I mentioned to a friend over email that the fear and tension in peoples’ faces were disturbing. But when this is all over, if people ask me what OCD is like, I now have an example. Do you remember how you felt all day long during the pandemic? That’s it, except that you feel it when times are good, too.
Mine has been much better over the past couple of years, mainly because I read some excellent books, was in therapy for a while, found coping tools, meditate almost every morning and I’ve established boundaries. I still worry more than is necessary about things I can’t control, but it doesn’t consume me like it used to.
The most significant contributing factor to my feeling better than I did, however, was limiting my exposure to the news and social media. The easiest way to know if it’s a problem for you is to try and turn it off for a day.
Don’t even look at it. If you can’t, you have a problem, and the first step to solving any problem is to admit that there is one.
If you can’t go one whole day without social media or the news, you don’t need me to tell you that’s an issue.
I’m not saying to avoid the news or social media forever. While we’re in isolation, we need to be informed, but be smart about it. Pick the news outlets you trust and follow them, especially your local news. Don’t click on anything and everything your friends post just because the headline or graphic triggers your fear. That’s what it was designed to do.
It shouldn’t matter to somebody in Saskatchewan that some people in Australia aren’t following social isolation rules. That’s a problem for them to solve. The borders are closed. They can’t get to you. There are almost 8 BILLION people on the planet. Following every story of tragedy for all of those people will ruin you, especially when most of those tragic stories are embellished, spun and manipulated for maximum fear. My wife had to tell a friend two days in a row that a “news” story she shared was inaccurate; it took her no time at all to find evidence that it was false. But then she saw the same stories shared by a bunch of other people. Nobody is even bothering to check, primarily if it supports what they already believe. I shouldn’t have to explain how dangerous that is.
But to spend our isolation with a display in our hand all day long, punching that refresh button, madly scrolling for fear of missing out, you’re making yourself miserable, along with everybody with whom you’re sharing it.
If you’re going to share stuff, why not good news stories for a change? There are still plenty of those out there, too. Videos of people on their balconies singing, applauding first responders, live concerts online for charity, and kitten videos. Come on, you can never have enough kitten videos.
Your friends and family are already scared. You can contribute to that fear, or you can help them down off that ledge.
I was going to write this long post about how hard this crisis is hitting freelance artists, those who work in the gig economy and me personally.
But after a few hundred words, it just sounded incredibly self-pitying, the kind of post I hate to read because it triggers feelings of, “you think you’ve got it bad?!”
We’re consuming way too much information on Covid-19, and then sharing it before we’ve even read the last sentence, usually with our own opinion tacked on. We forget that everyone is hurting from this.
Everybody is scared, if not for health reasons, then for economic ones.
One friend is worried about what this will do to his retirement savings. Another manages an entertainment venue and saw every event cancelled for this month. Another works in tourism, and hotels around here are starting to lay people off. A few friends are brick-and-mortar business owners and are wondering if they’ll survive until this ends. Others are seniors and while financially stable, are the most vulnerable if they get sick. Another friend is a doctor, and she has accepted that she will get sick, sees it as inevitable. Another friend had to cancel his family trip to Mexico this week; he’s out about $4000 because cancellation insurance won’t cover it for this virus.
Then there are the businesses I work with in newspapers and tourism. Newspapers rely on ads, and when companies are on the ropes, they don’t buy advertising. When people aren’t travelling, and everybody is acutely aware of their finances, retail stores and gift shops are wary of what they’re stocking, which means the wholesalers that license my work aren’t selling as much. The trade shows they attend to introduce my work to new customers have been cancelled.
Despite my recent assurance that I’m still doing the Calgary Expo, five weeks away, I highly doubt they’re going ahead with it. And if they do, it’s going to be a dismal year for attendance and sales. I sent my last two paintings for proofing, but I have no idea when I’ll order prints of them. A waste of money for them to just sit in the closet with the extensive inventory I’ve already got.
So yes, I’m scared, just like everybody else.
Fear of the unknown. It’s the reason people are hoarding toilet paper and other supplies. It’s not because they’re crazy, it’s because they’re afraid. When there are so many uncertainties and things we can’t control, our nature is to look for anything we can control.
We may not know if we’re going to have a job next month, but at least we have toilet paper! It’s not the product itself; it’s what it represents—safety, stability, and comfort.
This need to control our environment expresses itself in many different ways. Some people do the buying and hoarding, while others make fun of them for it. Because If I can convince myself that I’m better than those crazy people, then that must mean I’m going to be safe. As if we needed one more thing to reinforce our US versus THEM mentality.
Then there are those in between. I’ll stock up on a little more toilet paper, but not too much. Fine, I’ll add a few more cans to the grocery cart, maybe some extra meat for the freezer. Might as well, I’m here, right?
And then when we get to the grocery store and see all of the empty shelves, the fear escalates, and we buy more than we’d planned.
Because, what if the crazies are right?
It’s all fear. And even though that’s OK, we also end up judging ourselves for being panicky little mammals, too. We know we shouldn’t be checking social media or the news as often as we are because it creates a destructive loop. But we still do, because…
We do what we can with what we have, both in resources and information. Think twice before sharing every news story with your friends, because they don’t need to see it any more than you do. If they’re not following the news already, then they probably don’t want to see all of the articles YOU think they should.
We’ve all seen the graph about flattening the curve, so it doesn’t need to be posted again. We’ve all seen the conspiracy theories and the posts from doctors trying to be the voice of reason, the comparisons between the 1918 flu and the predictions of what happens if it gets worse.
We’ve all seen the videos of frenzied shoppers at Costco and the holier-than-thou posts from people who think they’re all idiots.
Some of the memes are pretty funny, sure. Laugh at the absurdity, but avoid the cruelty. These are your friends, your family and your neighbours, and they’re frightened. Cut them some slack. They’re judging you just as harshly, maybe not for this, but something else.
When we’re scared, we act irrationally. It’s human nature. Ironically, by trying to avoid this virus, we end up hurting ourselves with our coping mechanisms. We might drink a little more alcohol or partake of other substances, eat more unhealthy food, avoid exercise, socializing, and laughter.
We’ll spend even more time on the internet, hopping from one news story to the next, refreshing the feed, reading all of the comments, and then sharing the more truthy looking ones to social media, where we scroll madly through our news feed to see what we’ve missed. Then we check to see how many comments and likes we got on our apocalypse porn.
It’s difficult, but we do have the capacity to rein in these fears and habits. We need only summon the will.
I’m an atheist, but I’ve always liked the Serenity Prayer, favoured by Alcoholics Anonymous. It applies to so much of our lives, in good times and in bad.
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
I’m still short on the wisdom part, but I’m working on it.
In the wake of the rapidly changing (over)reaction to the Covid-19 virus, I’ve been thinking about the Calgary Expo next month.
It’s the only show I do, but it’s a big one. Close to 100,000 people attend each year. With the Alberta economy doing so poorly, my expectations for this year are already low. People don’t have a lot of money for luxuries, of which art is undoubtedly one.
But I was optimistic it would still be worth my time to connect with my regular customers, hold my booth space until things improve and hopefully make some money.
In recent days, however, with conferences and events being cancelled all around the world as people shy away from crowds, it’s now looking like the Calgary Expo could be twice cursed.
The Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle was postponed yesterday until sometime in the summer, a week away from their event, about the same size as Calgary’s. Leading up to it, the list of cancelled guests was huge. The organizers offered refunds to advance ticket holders nervous about attending because of the virus, and 10,000 people took them up on it. That’s a significant number.
The SXSW (South by Southwest) event in Austin, Texas, which draws 400,000 people, was cancelled yesterday.
So I find myself facing a dilemma. If I cancel, I lose my booth fees, $1200 in a year where my revenues are already taking a hit because of the economy.
I’m reminding myself of the sunk cost fallacy, which makes people do something against their best interest because of money already spent. We’re emotional, irrational creatures and will often tend to double down on a bad bet because of money or time we’ve already lost.
If I continue on this present course, I will spend more money on three nights in a hotel, electrical fees, parking, insurance, ordering more stock, only to potentially have a large corner booth in the middle of a ghost town for four days.
If the guests and celebrities don’t show up, people don’t show up. With the economy down and folks staying away out of fear, the odds of making enough sales to make a profit this year goes beyond optimism. It’s naïve wishful thinking, bordering on delusion.
If I cancel, I lose the booth cost and my preferred booth space, which is based on seniority. There’s a good chance I’d no longer do this event.
I’m not worried about getting sick. I have a healthy immune system and most people who get this particular coronavirus have mild symptoms and recover well. Seniors with existing medical conditions are the most vulnerable to this illness, and the Calgary Expo is just not their scene.
It’s not a question of fear or pessimism, but surveying the land and deciding if there’s a reasonable expectation of growing any crops there. I still want to do the Expo, but it’s a LOT of work, before, during and afterward. It seems foolish to invest that time and money only to be standing there for four days, stinking of desperation.
Ideally, it would be great if the Calgary Expo cancelled the event and issued refunds, but if that happens, I don’t see it coming for another month. They’d have a hard time postponing the event until the summer as Emerald City Con did because that would require a vacancy at the BMO Centre for a five day event, and that’s unlikely. If they cancelled the event this year and bumped everybody’s booth and fees to next year, I’d be okay with that, too.
A lot of people will be affected by cancelling Expo. This event is a big moneymaker for many, including me. For some, it’s part of the foundation of their annual income, especially those putting the con together. People have booked flights, rental cars, ordered stock and planned their big book, art, and product launches around this event. The local economy counts on this event, the largest in Calgary each year, second only to Stampede.
To lose it will hurt a lot of people.
To go ahead with it could be just as bad.
I’m an obsessive worrier by nature, and even I’m not worried about getting sick. Since the symptoms of coronavirus are mild for MOST people, I expect there are thousands worldwide who’ve had it, recovered from it, and nobody even knows. How often does the average person go to the hospital for the flu? Most will assume that’s just what they had.
But if one person dies or catches it at Calgary Expo and infects somebody else who dies, that could likely be the end of the whole event. The mass hysteria, finger-pointing and unreasonable fear that’s currently infecting the world are far worse than the virus itself. The court of public opinion, on Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else would descend en masse on the organizers.
When we become gripped by unreasonable fear, we start looking for an enemy to blame.
The SARS outbreak in 2003 would have been far worse for the world and economy if we’d had social media. Daily updates on where the virus has shown up are incredibly bad for your mental health. What’s worse is that people aren’t only absorbing the panic; they’re spreading it on their own social media feeds.
This is new. We’re freaking out, and losing all perspective. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 1.25 million people die in road crashes each year, on average, 3,287 deaths a day. An additional 20-50 million are injured or disabled. In the United States alone, 37,000 people DIE in car crashes each year.
Could you imagine being updated EVERY TIME somebody dies in a car accident, let alone gets hurt in one? We’d never get in our cars.
But we’re so used to it; we ignore it to the point where we have to be told not to use our phones while we drive.
Despite the assertions of everyone and anyone on Facebook, Twitter and the News Comments sections who have suddenly become virology experts in the past five minutes, there are no easy answers. There rarely are for complicated issues.
At present, I will wait on a decision, evaluate the situation as it unfolds, expect the worst, but hope for the best. Eventually, I’ll have to decide whether it’s worth it to go ahead or pull the pin, take the loss and accept the consequences.
In the meantime, I won’t be buying any masks, hoarding toilet paper or running and screaming every time I see an Asian person. It’s stupid, dangerous, and if it goes unchecked, it won’t be long before we’re turning on each other. Because when things get scary, that’s what people do.
To illustrate that point, I’ll leave you with this short scene from the movie, The Mist.
Late last month, I attended the Calgary Tattoo Show to support my friends at Electric Grizzly Tattoo, the shop I frequent here in Canmore.
I spend most of my working life alone, which can be unhealthy at times, so to have somewhere I can go to hang out with other working artists, commiserate on the bullshit inherent in this business of self-promotion, to decompress and share a few laughs, it’s a wonderful thing. Shonna still jokingly refers to it as my artist support group.
Add to that the constant flow of inspiration watching these people work, these past two years getting to know these artists has been all positive. One of the side benefits from hanging out at the shop is that I get to meet many of their clients as well. These folks are from all walks of life, with diverse backgrounds, from different places, who’ve had myriad experiences, with unique perspectives.
More than a few of them have become my clients, since my work is hanging in the shop as well.
The group discussions in that place have not only been enjoyable, but enlightening. Just recently, one client on one table used to work for CN Rail while another on the next table currently does oil pipeline maintenance. In the midst of a political maelstrom of promises, disinformation and the online outrage of the election, that was one of the most informative (and civil) discussions I’ve had about media spin and partisan politics vs. the reality of natural resource safety, economics and transportation.
It gave me a new perspective and further reinforced that the world isn’t black and white, and the truth in most things is only revealed in the subtle shades of grey.
I’ve met more open-minded and tolerant people at Electric Grizzly Tattoo than I have almost anywhere else in my life. Organized religion and the political party faithful could learn a lot from tattoo culture.
Back to the tattoo show…
I had considered getting a booth at this show to sell my work, with the encouragement of my friends in the business, but I’m glad it didn’t work out. With the pressure of the election, getting cartoons drawn and sent, what it would have involved with stock ordering, prep and prints, the expense of it all, it was too much. I still went to check it out to decide if I might do it next year.
It was a good plan. While I enjoyed the experience, it really wasn’t the right place to sell my stuff, despite all of the talented artists in attendance. It just wasn’t my audience and it was a much smaller show than the Calgary Expo.
One side benefit, however, is that I got to hang out with an incredibly talented landscape photographer I’ve met through the shop. Wes isn’t a photographer for a living, but his landscape photos are some of the best I’ve seen. Wes heads out to the mountains and takes road trips on a whim, regardless of weather, and captures incredibly beautiful scenes.
They’re surreal, moving, ethereal…basically just choose an adjective that says, “this guy’s work is unique.”
While standing in front of a stage for a good half hour, waiting for one of the many contest events at the show, Wes and I caught up. I showed him my latest stuff and he showed me his latest work and I realized how much I missed seeing it.
I left social media quite some time ago because it felt like I was spending more time promoting my paintings than creating them, without having much to show for the time invested. I got sucked into the culture that says you have to be constantly posting CONTENT, even when you have nothing to post, just so that the people who follow you will see you pop up in their feed every day, because the all-seeing, all-knowing algorithm says so.
The likes were never enough, the shares were never enough, and it just made me miserable. When you see some kid posting his lunch every day and he gets a million followers, you kind of wonder if you’re even in Kansas anymore.
I also dislike being on my phone.
But in my hiatus, I’ve realized a couple of things. One, the likes and shares will NEVER be enough. If I get 10,000, I’ll soon be shooting for 20,000, then 100,000, then…well, you get the idea.
The second thing I learned, which is more of a reminder, is that there is no rulebook for being an artist for a living, or for life in general. You just do your best, try to be a decent person, make your choices and see what happens. And you can change your mind.
While I’m confident that I’ve closed the book on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve been mulling over the idea of giving Instagram another shot because of something I didn’t anticipate when I left it in February.
Basically, I miss seeing the work of many artists I admire and that’s how they choose to share it. I’m missing out on seeing work that inspires me. As for my own posts, I’m simply going to share stuff when I have stuff to share, just like on this blog or in my newsletter. I won’t be creating content just to have stuff to post, nor will I be paying to promote anything, because that requires a business account and a Facebook profile in order to pay for it. I might post a painting, then nothing else for two weeks until the next one.
This will mean less people will see my posts, I’ll get fewer likes and shares, but honestly, that kind of thing rarely generated any revenue for me in the first place. When I left Instagram the first time, only a handful of those followers signed up for my newsletter as a result, which speaks volumes about how invested many of those nameless, faceless followers were really interested in seeing what came next.
Everybody talks a good game online.
An art career is constantly changing and when the wind shifts, you adjust your sails and try to hold course, waiting for it to inevitably shift again. Sometimes you seek safe harbour from the storm for a while, other times you stand on the deck shaking your fist, hands tied to the helm, daring the tempest to sink you.
Why do I like nautical metaphors so much? I don’t even sail!
If I find in six months that my first instincts about leaving Instagram were correct, well then I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it.
Follow politicians for a living for as many years as I have and you’ll realize that they’re all playing the same games, telling the same lies, manipulating the same polls, crying the same crocodile tears, all in an effort to fool us into thinking they’re in it for us, when too many of them are in it for themselves. No matter which party you love or loathe, they’re all guilty of playing politics with your money. We are reactionary, emotional, instinctual animals operating under the false belief that because we walk upright and know how to work a remote control, it somehow elevates us to the height of wisdom and intellect. And yet, we all fall for basic marketing manipulations every day. It’s the reason we buy all of the food, clothing and trappings of modernity that we think will fulfill us. It’s all sales, and politicians are just elite-level salespeople.
They’re hedging their bets, shoveling promise after promise, just hoping that one of their pretend commitments resonates enough with you so that you will believe that they’ve got your best interests at heart.
Which brings me to social media. You know it’s gotten pretty bad when the vitriol and rhetoric being passed around by regular folks online makes the politicians look like rank amateurs. The shit people say to each other on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and in the comments sections of news sites is the reason I killed all of my social media feeds some time ago.
The next time you’re tempted to go on a political rant, or engage in an online argument, consider the following points.
You’re never going to change somebody’s mind about anything by calling them stupid.
If everybody who talks a big game online actually went out and voted, the high turnout would be unprecedented.
The people we associate with on social media generally share our perspectives, so most of the time, you’re preaching to the choir. You’re not convincing anybody of anything except that you both share the same bias.
There are a lot of damaged people out there and some of them, for one reason or another, get pleasure from pissing off as many people as they can. They might not even disagree with your point of view, but they’ll happily fight with you in the CBC Comments Section, usually under a fake name.
On the other side of the previous point, just because somebody agrees with you online, doesn’t mean you’re right. Wisdom comes from realizing that you don’t know everything, and humbly admitting that you could be wrong, as we all are, a lot more often than we think.
Sharing news story after news story on social media, without thinking about where it came from, just means you’re working without getting paid, failing to ask if the story you’re sharing is even from a legitimate news source. You’re now a volunteer propaganda distributor and they’re making money off of you.
If the most interaction you have with somebody these days is online and you’re constantly complaining about politics and raging about it, it will change how somebody views you in real life. They aren’t separate things. Make no mistake, if somebody knows you in real life, they see through your online bullshit.
Ask yourself how likely it is that the person who is arguing against you will change their mind or position based on the fact that you make up cutesy names for politicians (Trudope, Trumpty-Dumpty, etc.) and insult their entire perspective. How likely would you be to change your position?
You have a limited amount of time on this planet. Arguing with strangers about politics is not the best way to spend it. If you were diagnosed with cancer tomorrow, or a family member, or your best friend, would it really matter if a political candidate said something foolish? If this is your one shot at living a fulfilling life, finding meaning, making a difference, how well do those means serve these ends?
The politician or party you’re voting out this time because you hate him so much? That’s the politician or party who replaced the last guy you voted out because you hated him so much. If one was so much better than the other, we wouldn’t keep swapping them.
We compare our own best traits to the worst traits in others, convinced we’re better. We pretend to be virtuous and empathetic online, but race to beat somebody to a parking spot at the mall. We say things to people online that we would never say in real life to another’s face because then you would have to look them in the eye and see the damage you’ve done.
Most people end up voting against somebody they dislike, rather than for somebody they like, the lesser of evils. You leave the ballot box with a heavy sigh, thinking, “well, I did my duty,” but you don’t feel that good about it.
I’m not going to try to fan the flames of democracy here, inspire you to make a difference, or pile on the platitudes about people dying in other countries for the right to vote, or telling you that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.
Lots of people don’t vote, and they still complain.
I still think it’s important to vote, what really amounts to the bare minimum of participation in the democratic process, but it gets harder and harder to see any benefit as the years go on. With a stage full of disingenuous bad actors, the whole thing feels rather futile, but then again, it always has. What makes it harder, however, is the false outrage online, the manipulation of some facts, the complete fabrication of others, and how people treat each other, especially when this electoral exercise is in progress.
What’s worse is that people are sharing false information and fake news stories and they don’t even seem to care that they’re being duped, because the fantasy they share supports what they want to believe. But we’ll call out a politician for even the tiniest of lies or indiscretions.
Pot, meet kettle.
You are free to champion one candidate while reviling another. But it is important to understand that your preferences are not shared by everyone else. We all have a bias, we all have different life experience, and we all see the world through a different lens. A person who is trying to make a living in downtown Toronto has different challenges than a person trying to make a living in rural Saskatchewan.
But they probably still have a spouse, children, aging parents, failing health, car payments, a mortgage, a job they tolerate, debts they struggle to pay, and lives that didn’t turn out as well as they’d hoped, or were promised.
We are more alike than different.
This is why social media is so dangerous, because we gravitate toward those with like-minded opinions; we cluster with those people and then go looking for an enemy, which is the cluster of those other people whose opinions and ideals differ from our own. We insulate ourselves from diversity and extinguish our own empathy.
Then we grow to hate each other, a little more every day.