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All Fear, All the Time!

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…

What if?!

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.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
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The F Word

February is always a melancholy month for me. My motivation is at its lowest, and what little optimism I normally have is reduced to crumbs in the bottom of the bin. It’s also the month I’m most likely to feel that my business is a breath away from failure. When the weather is bad and it’s bitterly cold, as it has been this past month, the weight of that seems even greater.

With year-end books being delivered to the accountant this week, a tax installment for the current year due next week, inventory and booth costs for next month’s Calgary Expo, and the ever tenuous nature of the newspaper industry, it’s easy to feel that it’s all about to end. Especially in February.

That’s called catastrophizing, kids. It’s a cognitive distortion common for a lot of people, self-employed or not.

Perception isn’t reality, but it sure feels that way. This time of year, I’m often staring at a blank page with no inspiration to fill it. In this business of creativity, that can get a little scary. My tendency to go right to the worst case scenario often triggers unsolicited advice from a familiar voice that resides in the darker corners of my mind. It’s loudest in winter. It never shuts up in February.

“Looks like you’re done. You had a good run, but who were you kidding? It’s not like you were any good at this anyway. You should probably start scanning the employment section, though I can’t imagine anyone will want to hire you with that 13 year gap in the résumé.”

One of the most common things I’ve heard from people over the years is that being an artist isn’t a real job, that all I do is draw and colour all day when everybody else has to work for a living.

It used to piss me off. Over time, I’ve realized that it’s a waste of time and energy to explain my own circumstances to people. Everybody’s job is hard but most people are under the impression that the conditions of their own employment (or self-employment) are the most difficult.

We’re all so busy worrying that other people don’t understand how hard things are for us, that we fail to realize that we just might be guilty of the same. One of the consequences of our outrage culture is that empathy has become scarce, despite our penchant for sharing tragic news articles on social media.

Thoughts and prayers. Repeat.

Some will tell me how great it must be to be an artist for a living, to draw and colour all day, to realize a dream. My initial thought is “Are you kidding me? It’s a lot of work, and I have to follow soul-sucking politics for a living, and it’s not just about creating the artwork, you have to sell it, and in a down economy, art is a luxury and when times are tough, people stop buying luxuries, and, and, and…”

In quiet moments of reflection, however, I realize that what they’re really telling me is that their own dreams and ambitions haven’t been fulfilled and they imagine mine have.

Our culture of showing off only our best adventures, photos, accomplishments, relationships, accolades and successes is creating unreasonable expectations in others and in ourselves. And even though we really do know that somebody’s carefully curated online persona is not an accurate representation of their reality, we can’t help but envy the fantasy, the media package they’ve chosen to share.

But that’s all it is, a promotional ad campaign for the lives most people wish they had.

If you find yourself looking to someone else’s life or circumstance with envy, take a moment to consider that there is some undesirable part of their experience that they haven’t shared with you. I guarantee it.

Those frequent perfect couple pics might be hiding an unhappy marriage on the rocks. The beach vacation full of selfies might have been funded with the last dollar on the fourth maxed out credit card before somebody claims bankruptcy. That always positive person who shares motivational memes might be masking their own pain from unrealized expectations and is desperately faking it until they make it.

We’re each our own hot mess, in one way or another. We’re all disappointed. We’ve all got pain.

Don’t envy somebody their job, their vacations, their car, their house, their stuff, their posts. You’re never seeing the whole picture. Heard that before? It bears repeating.

Now, there are certainly those whose example is worthy of admiration. History is full of people who’ve inspired others to greatness. But look to individuals because of their character, how they treat others, what their values are. Learn from them, but don’t deny your own potential.

The only real comparison worth making is who you want to be today against who you were yesterday, and it’s not measured in likes or shares. Last I checked, there aren’t tallies on tombstones, though I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s coming soon.

So much of this crap is just unimportant noise.

This landscape, these thoughts, this frustration, this angst, this is where I dwell in February.

But it’s finally March and at -1C today, it felt like frickin’ summer. Just as the bears are waking up and emerging from their dens, I expect to soon escape these familiar winter blues and find myself inspired by spring. I’m not there yet, but I soon will be.

Any day now.

Cheers,
Patrick

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