Pandemic Sketching Journal: Fear

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Art first; fear later.

I’ve been working on a couple of projects that have kept me preoccupied lately:

  1. I gave a virtual talk along with historian Adriana Davies for Historic Edmonton Week Festival. The topic was how the threatened historic University of Alberta Ring Houses have had a significant connection with both local and international art.

Adriana presented a profile of artist and professor H.G. Glyde and his many accomplishments. Glyde and his family lived in Ring House 4 and his daughter, Helen Collinson, was Curator and Director of the Ring House Gallery and University Collections that were situated in Ring House 1.

I presented a slide show and talk about my local art group Urban Sketchers Edmonton, and our sketches that were inspired by the Ring Houses and other historic buildings, on and off campus, such as the century old horse barn on South Campus.

Our talk can be seen here on the Edmonton & District Historical Society YouTube channel and it will be uploaded onto the Friends of the U of a Ring Houses YouTube channel soon.

2. Along with Shirley Lowe, another former Historian Laureate for Edmonton, I am a participant on episode 7 of the podcast “Searching for Izena”, titled “What If”. The podcast is about Edmonton’s first female alderman, Izena Ross, and the other women who have served on City Council (there have only been 31 from 1921 to present day!). Among other accomplishments of these women, we talk about some of the visionary women on council who helped save our beautiful ravines and river valley from being paved over, and about Helen Paull, the alderman who brought in the 1% art policy. (Note: all councillors originally had the title of “alderman” regardless of gender). Our episode will be available on July 20.

My thoughts about the pandemic fear thing are at the bottom of my post. But first, here are my sketches for June:

The pandemic has changed many things about life including the concept of time. The sketching prompt for this sketch was “outdoor clocks”.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Urban Sketchers Edmonton met up at the Alberta Aviation Museum to sketch the bees and the airplanes. I realised after that my sketch looks a bit like a prison camp for bees but really the fence protects them and they seem very happy. (Hey, apparent “appearance” of a prison, and protection = happiness…hmm. Kinda fits into my theme even though I didn’t plan it that way) I really just wanted the challenge of sketching the chain link fence. Got my challenge!

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

One of my fears in general, not just during the pandemic, is that my home city and province are losing their identity through the demolition of heritage buildings, both purposeful and by neglect. Our city and province still act like fledglings in many ways and we are constantly reinventing ourselves out of some sense of low self-esteem. We don’t always understand what mature places in the world do: that art, architecture and history are important in place-making and story-telling, in creating identity, a sense of community, civic pride and a vibrant life for all of us who live here and those who visit. Hopefully life is about more than just work and survival.

I wish I could just sketch heritage buildings without having them under threat of demolition. This is one of the two houses in the U of A’s East Campus Village that could disappear soon. It and its neighbouring house were built in 1914 in the Art & Crafts style. Built in the same era as the Ring Houses.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Now, on the pandemic front, which hopefully is winding down if enough people get vaccinated, I have been thinking about how the word “fear” has been misunderstood and much maligned during the pandemic. As with many things, it’s a matter of degree.

The right amount of fear is a very useful thing – it is what has helped the human race to survive since the beginning of time. Rational fear that is. The legitimate fear of the potentially devastating effects of the Covid19 virus is a rational fear, although it has often been labeled as an irrational fear in a way that has encouraged bullying. Popular with some who deny or underestimate the virus (and who therefore don’t believe that masks, vaccines and all the rest of the arsenal are necessary) use rallying cries such as “Fear is the virus!” and call people who are taking precautions “Sheeple” who they claim are irrationally fearful, because well, people are easier targets than a weird, invisible virus.  But, really, what’s so bad about sheep? They are pretty darn cute.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

However, I think I might be starting to understand where the sceptics are coming from. I don’t agree – but I sort of understand. I think that a large part of it may actually stem from their own unacknowledged fear. Fear of a broken economy, the loss of their jobs, income, houses and the life that they have known for themselves and their families. That is a totally rational and legitimate fear, and I have that fear too. Unfortunately, the way in which that rational fear has played out is through the irrational actions of blaming and harassing regular folk who are just trying to do the right thing for everyone.

The masked and the vaccinated have been working hard to end the pandemic and get the economy and people’s jobs back on track, especially now that we could be so close to the end of the pandemic. Vaccinated and masked people are not closing businesses – they are helping to keep them open. But if there are others who are walking around as human petri dishes, creating and spreading new variants, then that is what can close down businesses, jobs and the economy again.

These are two interesting articles about fear: Why You Aren’t Thinking Clearly: The Brain Science of Fear in Uncertain Times and 8 Ways to Calm Your Survival Brain by American professor and social scientist Hildy Gotlieb. They were written in March 2020 but the basic concepts still apply. And believe me, I have had my brain-freezes and clumsy-brain episodes during the pandemic. I have been fortunate to be able to bring calm back to my mind when I needed it through her and others’ useful advice. We can’t do it alone.

Hildy Gotleib:

Whether we are thinking about the illness itself, or thinking about the economic reality that so many of us are already facing as the whole world economy grinds to a stop, we do not have predictability to keep our brains calm. We do not have control. We cannot see the path to safety.

Connection requires at least some degree of understanding. When we do not understand the people around us, we tend to other-ize them. “They’re so (fill in the blank – Dumb? Crazy? Messed up?)” is a way of separating ourselves from others. And right now, our brains need us to feel connection, even as we are practicing social distance.

These are all gifts we can give to ourselves and those around us – the gifts of connection, compassion, gratitude, and understanding. These are the gifts our brains need right now. And hopefully those gifts will provide a bit more calm during these deviously uncertain times.

Courage my loves.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal: Hold On

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I am a bit late with my May post (not that anyone is holding their breath about that I’m sure 😄). Of course, we are still living with the pandemic but things are getting ever so gradually better. I get my second Covid19 vaccination shot this month – yay!

We just need to hold on and not get ahead of ourselves. It’s not over yet, and we can help ease restrictions sooner if we continue to be safe and take care of each other. It’s looking like Covid19 will now be with us for years, so vaccination is the only way out and is essential for everyone’s health, including the health of the economy. The fewer of us who get vaccinated, the more the variants will increase which the vaccine may not be effective against. I think we understand the life-saving capabilities of vaccines by now; this ain’t our first rodeo. Oh wait, some folks are having premature rodeos. Hold on – we’re not there yet!

For some good news, it’s looking like the mRNA vaccines used against Covid19 could also be used in the fight against other diseases such as respiratory infections that threaten babies and young children, HIV and other autoimmune diseases, and the technology could also have applications in cancer treatment. Science is amazing.

On the art side of things, I also have continued my (more or less) weekly sketching online with my Urban Sketchers Edmonton group. A lot of my creative art endeavors have been frustrated during the pandemic. I thought I would have so much time to work on my art but I have had a hard time concentrating and being creative with the nagging buzzing going on in my head about the pandemic and the meagreness of spirit that has characterized it and so much else in the world. However, I know that there are many good, caring people who have approached this and other difficult times with kindness and patience, and that always helps me to regain faith in humanity.

Sketching has kept me going with my art practice because we are provided with weekly sketching prompts and themes, and we are just documenting what we see in front of us – none of the deep conceptual exploration needed that I usually undertake for my main creative work.

Here are my sketches for May:

Our May 1st sketching prompt was “Yellow”: a cheerful, hopeful colour.

The May 8th sketch coincided with the annual Jane’s Walks which celebrates the legacy and ideas of urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs by promoting walkable neighbourhoods, urban literacy and cities planned for and by people. This is a festival that takes place annually around the globe. Due to the pandemic, many of the walks are self-guided and virtual this year, and Edmonton’s walks included the U of A Ring Houses and neighbourhoods such as Spruce Ave, Oliver, Westmount, Griesbach and many other themed walks.

Speaking of the Ring Houses, for our May 29 theme of “An urban sketch of your choice”, I returned to the Ring Houses for three reasons: I hadn’t sketched Ring House 4 yet, the landscaping around the houses is particularly beautiful now with the lilacs and other trees in bloom, and I am still concerned about these important heritage buildings – their future is uncertain and it is possible that they could still be demolished.

I was looking for a particular song titled “Hold On” and I found a whole lot more songs with the same title, many of which have a similar message of patience and hope in the lyrics.

Here’s the one I was looking for: Alabama Shakes “Hold On” released in 2012:

You got to hold on, You got to hold on, Yeah you got to wait! I don’t wanna wait, Well you got to hold on.

Holding on to hope and good cheer… and patience. Courage my loves.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal: Variations on a Theme

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I am a bit late in writing my end of April Pandemic Sketching Journal post. I am having a hard time with what has now become an even harsher pandemic reality. Among many other pandemic burdens, a shocking situation has hit home in Alberta where we have the highest Covid19 case count per capita in Canada* (and more than in a lot other places in the world too.) In many ways this has been a self-generated crisis here. *I stand corrected – now more cases per capita in Alberta than anywhere in North America.

In contrast, a recent bright light appeared via a chat with someone who I know who lives in New Zealand. She told me about what can happen with good governance and a citizenry who are willing to pull together to fight the common enemy of the pandemic. She said that although things are not perfect with everything in New Zealand in general – as is the case with every country in the world – what has been highly successful there has been the handling of the pandemic, and she has profound gratitude for the true freedom that has allowed.

After their initial 6-week strict lockdown and staged emergence, New Zealand currently has no community transmission and, although with some small blips, they have gone through many long periods of the same. Masks are not required, and New Zealanders are free to gather in groups and hug and celebrate without fear of spreading COVID to a loved one or a fellow citizen. One of their biggest street festivals just happened in Wellington in April with no distancing and no masks – like any normal festival that we used to know and love in Alberta.

New Zealand’s economy has had some setbacks because their tourism industry doesn’t exist right now, but their local economy is doing just fine and better than many globally. Stores, restaurants, pubs, sports, the arts and festivals, schools, businesses, industries, and everything else is open and active. They are free to travel anywhere within the country and see anyone they want. Turns out that shutting everything down early to eliminate the presence of the virus and prevent collapsing the health system is actually good for freedom and the economy in the long run.

Meanwhile back in Alberta, I am sad to see what has happened to my home province and its citizens. I can only do my part and hope with all my heart that everyone else does too.

Now on to my actual sketching. My Urban Sketchers Edmonton group is still sending out weekly sketching themes and prompts, and although we can’t get together as a group, we share our sketches online and help keep each other’s spirits up in that way.

One of our sketching prompts was to feature a small business. Re:Plenish is one of my favourite sustainable small local businesses.

We have been doing a pandemic version of sketching “together” with “Sketch from your Vehicle” events. This month we sketched the grain handling terminal at 13020 – 127 Avenue which was originally built as one of the concrete Canada Government Elevators, then became Alberta Terminals Ltd, and is now operated by Cargill.  Edmonton architect Darrel Babuk told me that these massive grain terminals provided inspiration for Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, one of the true pioneers of the modernist movement in architecture. In Le Corbusier’s collection of essays “Towards a New Architecture” published in 1927, one essay is dedicated to these terminals, illustrated with photographs of the structures from Canada and the USA. One of the photos depicts the terminal in Calgary, built in 1915 and demolished in 2011. Edmonton’s was built in 1924 and the residential neighbourhood of Athlone grew up around it in the 1950s.

Another sketching prompt was to include people in our sketches. I haven’t sketched people in a long time and wasn’t having much luck so I looked online for a tutorial and found one on YouTube that simplifies the human figure as a silhouette. The worked better for me when I was practicing than in my actual sketch, but it would be a great technique for sketching crowds of people when there is such a thing again!     

My practice people sketch

I have also been working on a private painting commission which I am happy to say that I have completed! Here is a detail of the painting, and one of my favourite parts of the painting. I feel like painting more flowers now, and spring will bring me more of those fair subjects soon.

Art has been my saviour through all of this – both because I have been able to find solace in creating art, and I have been able gain comfort through art in many forms through online music, movies, performance, and virtual art exhibits. There is also always the contentment of actual books that I can hold in my hands.

Take care of yourselves and each other. Courage my loves.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal – Protection

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I got my first Covid 19 vaccination today! It feels like a big weight has been lifted from my shoulders – not all of the weight, but things are getting lighter. I just realized that the word VACATION is in the word VACcinATION.

Maybe that message can help nudge the reluctant toward protection. Freedom awaits! True freedom – not the deceptive kind. Of course no vacations for a while yet until everyone is vaccinated, but I am so very happy that in the foreseeable future, which has been unforeseeable for so long, I will be able to be with people who I love who I haven’t seen in so long. Protecting each other by staying away from each other feels perverse, but then it has been a particularly perverse world over the last year. 

On the subject of protection, my sketches this month are inspired by Urban Sketchers Edmonton’s theme of the month: “Historic Buildings”, and boy do they need protection. Unfortunately, there are many at risk of demolition.

Although Edmonton has to be reminded constantly of the importance of heritage to our identity, flawed Alberta provincial legislation encourages development over the preservation of heritage buildings. I don’t know why so many situations are seen as “or” when they can be “and”.

Edmonton has been on the National Trust for Canada’s Most Endangered Historic Places list 15 time in the last 17 years. That’s not good. The University of Alberta’s Ring Houses are the most recent additions

This is my second Ring House sketch – the first is in my post previous to this one. All of the Urban Sketchers Edmonton’s Ring House sketches are in a separate post with more background. These historic buildings were built from 1911 – 1914 as housing for faculty, and they fulfilled many functions of importance to the university over the years. Six of the original ten were demolished in 1970 to make way for a car park. A moratorium on the demolition of the remaining four has been requested by concerned citizens so that time can be allowed for adaptive reuse solutions to be formulated for the Ring Houses. Otherwise, these historic houses will be demolished in May. 

I sketched another couple of buildings that are on the demolition list in what is now Oliver Crossing at 111 Street and 104 Avenue in Edmonton.

“Demolishing is a decision of easiness and short term,” said Anne Lacaton. “It is a waste of many things – a waste of energy, a waste of material, and a waste of history. Moreover, it has a very negative social impact. For us, it is an act of violence.” Anne Lacaton and Jean-Phillipe Vassal are the 2021 Pritzker prize winners. The Pritzker Architecture Prize is awarded annually “to honor a living architect or architects whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture”. It is a premier international architecture prize, and is often referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture.

These solid buildings – brick inside and out – are the last two buildings standing from the from the railyards era that dominated our downtown streetscape for almost a century. Once they are gone, nothing will remain to commemorate this important era in our city’s history.

The University of Alberta Farm is a gem for so many reasons. The heritage barns there have quite a story.

The University of Alberta’s Faculty of Agriculture came into being in 1915 on the main campus. Lectures were in Pembina Hall and an animal husbandry lab was in a barn to the west of Athabasca Hall that housed a small number of cows and horses. Field test plots were grown along Saskatchewan Drive. More farm buildings were added where the Jubilee Auditorium and Stollery Hospital stand today.

In 1930, five farm buildings including the horse barn and dairy barn were moved to the University Farm site, now South Campus.  Other new buildings were added including the livestock pavilion, grain elevator, feed mill and seven houses for farm staff. The horse barn was moved again in 2010. Today it stands near the Green and Gold Community Garden and the Prairie Urban Farm.

When I hear complaints about the expense of preserving historic buildings, I think we can compare this grand 100 year old barn to the “inexpensive” and uninspired temporary barn beside it. These temporary structures are often made of PVC which carries huge environmental and health concerns. Not only would the demolition of a historic structure such as this original barn be a loss to the story and identity of the farm and beyond, but as National Trust states, “these structurally sound and functional buildings represent large quantities of embodied carbon and irreplaceable durable materials, including old-growth timber.” Temporary structures only contribute to alarming environmental and energy impacts through all the stages of their short lives: production, intentional short-term use, and disposal. I don’t know what the plans are for the historic horse barn, but it seems that nothing is safe from so-called “development” any more.

High rise developments are often the reason given for the demolition of heritage buildings. However, including them in a development is a way to honour the past as well as providing for future needs. Again an “and” not “or” situation.

El Tovar Apartment House at 10029 – 114 Street is a human-scale, historic apartment building in the Oliver neighbourhood of Edmonton. Although the proposed development for the lot is unknown, it is likely that another high rise building will take its place.

We should not be replacing heritage with high rises. There is a place for densification, but not at the cost of losing our few remaining heritage buildings. Modest buildings are often overlooked for their heritage value because they are not “grand”. However, they contribute greatly to the story, identity and historic development of our City, just as much as any ornate building.

We need to protect the tangible memory of our cities. It is part of what makes cities vibrant, human and livable. Let’s protect each other too through the rest of this pandemic and beyond. Courage my loves.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal – Our Relationship with Time and Place

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I am borrowing the title for this post from the brilliant Zita Cobb, a woman who revitalized a dying rural outport in Newfoundland through community, art and architecture.

The pandemic has changed our relationship with time, and has hopefully given us time to think about the many aspects of our communities and lives that are important.

The importance of community, and the lack of community, has become obvious through the pandemic.  Community is also about our heritage and memory. I have been sketching heritage buildings this month, as well as over past years, and I have felt particularly disheartened lately by the continued demolition of our community’s culture and identity that is embodied by these buildings.

Most recently, some of oldest buildings on the University of Alberta campus, the Ring Houses, are under threat of demolition. The brutal budget cuts with which the Alberta UCP government has unfairly burdened the university are unconscionable, and that is another fight. But demolition is not a solution – it carries a cost as well, and in many ways. A moratorium on demolition is the prudent move at this point. Time is needed. Universities are places of both history and innovation. Surely, with the collaboration of innovative minds on campus and in our community, a solution can be found for adaptive reuse of these storied houses.

I will be quoting bits from Zita Cobb’s 2019 talk “Design in Service of Place”. It is well worth seeing her entire talk.

Zita Cobb’s definition of community:

A physical embodied place where human beings live in some kind of a tangle with each other.

Communities are really the only site of care and real collaboration. Communities are places where people have shared memories and shared aspirations.

  1. Community is the basic building block of human life. We just have to find our way back to it.
  2. Place is not a commodity and shouldn’t be treated as such.
  3. Be respectful of all the human ways of knowing.
  4. Art is a way of belonging to the world.
  5. Businesses must not be just for profit.

We have contributed to the flattening of the specific. The world is suffering from a plague of sameness. Why do we allow this sameness to be built in our communities? Partly because our human brains over-focus on the things we can measure.

Most importantly, have integrity and be original. We don’t have to copy other models that have nothing to do with us. We can dig deep into our own home and our own culture to come up with solutions.

We have become handmaidens of business when we really need to be handmaidens of life.

I think we are living through a time where we overvalue money, and what we use it for most of the time is to make more money, but money can do almost anything we ask it to do.

Author Charles Eisenstein wrote about Sacred Capital. Something is sacred if it carries a unique essence that if destroyed, cannot be easily repaired. Sacred Capital is important to our ability to make a dignified life. And then there’s money, which is hugely important but not sacred. The thing we have to get right is the relationship between financial capital and sacred capital.

For everything we do, we have to think about all of the impacts. Economist and author E. F. Schumacher who inspired such movements as “Buy Locally” and “Fair Trade”, wrote that we should look at the world as a whole. “Nature and culture are the two great garments of human life. Business and technology are the two great tools that can and should serve them”.

Our human selves crave a relationship with time. Architecture and design help hold us in a relationship with time. We have relationships with objects too, and the quality of our relationships is the quality of our awareness.  

If you grow up in a community where the important public buildings are in disrepair, you do not feel very positive about the future.

What do we know, what do we have, what do we love, what do we miss, and what can we do about it? The only communities we can’t save are the ones that nobody loves.

As business people we lack many things, and one of the things we lack is a little bit of imagination – and nuance.

If you have a really tough problem to solve, bring on artists because they are like reverse magicians. Magicians make things disappear; artists make things appear. They point to things that we don’t ordinarily see.

When you are a culture of makers, there’s something that that knits people together. One of the things with the digital world is that we stop being citizens sometimes. We go from being citizens to being consumers to being commodities.

We have created for ourselves a crisis of meaning which is tied to a crisis of value. The relationship between the intrinsic value of something and its financial value is what we have to fix. We humans have lost track of the most important thing, and the hero of the story is a little thing called community.

Thank you Zita Cobb, for your words and your work.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal – Theories

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It’s been a shaky start to 2021, and the pandemic is still thriving. As if that’s not enough, problems that don’t exist are being manufactured: conspiracy theories. Because there have been so many out there, there are also theories (the non-conspiracy kind) about what makes them tick. Below are a couple of non-conspiracy theories that have helped me toward understanding the attraction for some folks.

Apparently the seductiveness of conspiracy theories is two-fold; they provide simple answers, and they are addictive. That means that manipulative, corrupt or otherwise unstable people can use them to dupe others into being radicalized.

  1. Simplicity: Reality and truth can be hard to face sometimes. Conspiracy theories take difficult, complex situations and simplify them, which is soothing and provides a false sense of control over a situation that is not easily controlled. Finding real answers to real situations often means doing the complicated and difficult work of understanding and finding solutions.
  2. Addiction: Conspiracy theories also have an attractive “solving of a puzzle” appeal. They trick you into thinking that they are real, but fact checking shows that they are actually full of tenuous links, gaps and outright lies that simply ram the puzzle pieces together. The “search” for the conspiracy is an easy rabbit hole to fall into. Social media, puzzle solving and rabbit holes can all have addictive qualities, and when they are combined in a negative manner, they become a devastating and dangerous addiction. It is especially tragic when otherwise regular, decent folks are duped into becoming pawns, and sometimes monsters, through lies and manipulation.

There also seems to be an addiction to anger and outrage lately, amplified by social media and often resulting in extremism. I hope for the return to decency and listening to differing points of view respectfully. We can learn from each other and find common ground.

Truth is crucial and fundamental to our survival. Checking sources and digging for the truth takes time and tough work whereas lies tend toward the dramatic and provocative. Luckily, there are some good fact-checking sites that do the work for us, such as Snopes. They have already checked the sources, cross-referenced, exposed lies and sought out truth.

For further fact checking specific to the pandemic, Share Verified is a good source, and ScienceUpFirst is a great made in Canada resource.

And finally, for a balance to all the bleakness that overpopulates the internet, I recommend taking a look at the website Reasons to be Cheerful. There is some great stuff being done by creative people who are finding positive, practical ways to make lots of things better.

Hey 2021, I still believe there is reason for hope and lightness. Take us there – I’ll walk softly with you, carrying my big sketching stick. Courage my loves.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal – Knowledge

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As we leave 2020, one of the most important things that the year taught us was the absolute importance of knowledge and trustworthy information.

There’s no version of civil rights activism that includes demanding that your community respect your right to put your community in danger.  ……. Dr. Ubaka Ogbogu
Dr. Ogbogu is an Associate Professor in the Faculties of Law and Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, and the Katz Research Fellow in Health Law and Science Policy, at the University of Alberta. 

Now my rant:

There is something terribly wrong with Alberta. There are still good people here, but our callous, dogmatic, and unresponsive provincial government, along with the too common Alberta mindset of “rights”, entitlement and misinformation are at the core of its downfall. Alberta has the highest percentage of anti-maskers in Canada. We have climbed to the top and/or are quickly approaching the top in Covid19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Canada. There is hope with the Covid19 vaccine but Alberta also has the highest number of anti-vaccers in Canada, so that hope is diminished. There are Albertans who are separatists; who feel that Alberta can make it on its own, yet Alberta with its attitude and its lack of economic diversity has been hit the hardest in % change in GDP, has suffered some of the highest unemployment in the pandemic, and has had to rely on the federal government for support.  

There are those who quote misinformation from doctors and scientists, but research shows that those doctors and scientists either don’t exist or have been discredited. Every profession has members who barely squeaked by in their degrees, and who do not keep up the lifelong education that is necessary to maintain and build expertise.

If anyone believes that doctors are telling deliberate lies about Covid19, you have the right to file a complaint against those doctors with the College of Physicians and Surgeons. All you need is the evidence that you have gathered to back up your claim. It is a serious charge and disciplinary offense if true. Go.

So now, here are some facts by knowledgeable experts (interspersed with my December sketches).

Although there are still more challenges, Australia’s economy rebounded in the third quarter. Australia also had high compliance with pandemic restrictions, even when the number of cases were low. Australia’s restrictions were swift and tough, and the country experienced relatively few cases and even fewer deaths.

In an Australian research paper by lead author Dr. Holly Seale, she found that more than 90 per cent of respondents said they’d actively changed their behaviour to help stop the spread of the virus to others. People saw themselves playing a role in adopting these new behaviours for the moral good. For example, when asked what would motivate them to comply with a social distancing strategy, participants’ most common response was, ‘I believe it is the right thing to do’. Dr. Seale is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Public Health & Community Medicine, and the Program Co-Director of the Master of Infectious Diseases Intelligence course, USNW Sydney, AU. Her focus is perceptions and behaviours regarding infectious diseases, particularly vaccine-preventable diseases.

I am not scared of Covid19. Mostly, I’m scared about what message we are telling our kids when faced with a threat. Instead of reason, rationality, open-mindedness and altruism, we are telling them to panic, be fearful, suspicious, reactionary and self-interested.

Covid-19 is nowhere near over. It will be coming to a city, a hospital, a friend, even a family member near you at some point. Expect it. Stop waiting to be surprised further. The fact is the virus itself may cause you great harm or none at all. But our own behaviors and “fight for yourself above all else” attitude could prove disastrous.

Let’s meet this challenge together in the best spirit of compassion for others, patience, and above all, an unfailing effort to seek truth, facts and knowledge as opposed to conjecture, speculation and catastrophizing.     …… Dr. Abdu Sharkawy Dr. Sharkawy is an Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases Specialist at the University Health Network and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto.

This virus is unforgiving to unwise choices. This enemy that we are facing is very good at what it does; we are not failing. We need everyone to hold the line as the epidemic inevitably gets worse. This is not my opinion; this is the unforgiving math of epidemics for which I and my colleagues have dedicated our lives to understanding with great nuance, and this disease is no exception. I want to help the community brace for this impact. Stay strong and with solidarity knowing with absolute certainty that what you are doing is saving lives, even as people begin getting sick and dying. You may feel like giving in. Don’t. ……. Dr. Jonathan Smith Dr. Smith teaches Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases & Global Health at Yale University School of Public Health. His research focuses on infectious disease transmission dynamics.

I will end with a quote from creative thinker, writer and activist, Isabel Allende:

I think we lived in an unsustainable situation, an abuse against the planet, climate, nature, other species… a consumer society without any inner life and no inner satisfaction either.
I don’t think we live in a happy world, much less. It’s the first time, possibly in history, that there is a feeling that we are one humanity, that what happens to one happens to all.

I made this painting in December but I worked from a summer photo. It was a commission for a Christmas gift.

As I read over my post, it is obvious in both my words and visuals, that I have been feeling discouraged. But that doesn’t mean that I have given up hope. Let’s all keep hope, strength and kindness alive for a better 2021 and a better world. It can still happen if we all work together. Courage my loves.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal – Strength

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Good grief. I have started on my third sketch book for my Pandemic Sketching Journal. After nine months of the pandemic, and an increase in illness, death and economic hardship, there is also an increase in harmful conspiracy theories and misinformation (that are also growing in craziness). Boy do we need strength!

I continue to be mystified by people who like to make a bad situation worse, but there you go. I wonder if those who are spreading misinformation and who are refusing to wear masks, are the same ones who were hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer at the beginning of the pandemic. People who don’t care about anyone but themselves tend to do both of those types of things. Much like bullies, there is also a confusion of strength and weakness.

The strength that gets us through situations such as this is not brute strength – it is the strength of resilience, adapting and caring. The strongest among us are often those who care the most. People who we think of as strong, and who we often look to in times of crisis, sometimes need help too. They are the ones we always depend on – and that is a heavy load. None of us have strength 100% of the time. We all need each other, and we need each other’s strength.

My sketch group, Urban Sketchers Edmonton, has been suggesting weekly sketching themes/prompts. It helps us to feel connected even when we can’t sketch together.  The first week of November was our choice of theme, and I was inspired by the strength of the wee birds who overwinter here. You don’t need to be big to be strong.  

Here are the rest of my sketches for November. These first few I did to help a friend with his Fundrive Sketch Club for local independent radio station CJSRfm88.5. I went back to some basic and fun drawing exercises and we did these daily “together” online during the Fundrive.  Here are a few – try some! They will take you away from those heaping cares of world.

Continuous line drawing: This is where you never lift your pen from the paper. Concentrating on doing this takes away a lot of stress. Even better, it’s not about making things look exact. The whole idea is to loosen up and have fun!

Non-dominant hand sketching: Draw something with the hand that you don’t write with. It slows you down and makes you more aware of what you are drawing. I do this pretty regularly when monkey-brain starts to take over and I need to get those monkeys to concentrate.

Musical doodling: Draw a square on a piece of paper, turn on some of your favourite music and let it tell you what to doodle to fill in the square. Take as long as you like and just let it flow.

We have also started to sketch “together” virtually with our sister sketch group, Calgary Urban Sketchers, via a theme/prompt on the second Saturday of every month. The sister sketch theme for November 14 was “Tower”.

Our theme/prompt for Nov 21 was “Reflection”, so I thought I would reflect on an earlier pandemic sketch that I did during the hoarding craziness.

The theme/prompt for Nov 28 was “Home”. A place of comfort for some, but not for others. The pandemic and the actions of some people means that some homes are not so safe and not so secure. For those of us who are lucky we need to count our blessings and help others, and not cause harm, through our words and actions.

We need to remain courageous to defeat this invisible and harmful enemy in all of its forms. It’s not easy, and it will take grit and strength but you don’t have to do it alone. Find help if you need it – it is out there. Courage my loves.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal – Tradition

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October is a month that represents much that is traditional here including harvest, Thanksgiving and Hallowe’en. Tradition is something that has meaning for many of us, and the Covid19 pandemic has affected all of that in certain ways.

Thanksgiving has always been one of the traditional annual holidays for families to get together and share food. This year throws that all out of whack. Some families can get together in a very limited way if their cohort is small and if everyone in the cohort understands the limitations of that (and the misinterpretations can be pretty wild). But since family gatherings have become one of the major ways that the virus is spread, many of us had small and solo Thanksgivings, sometimes with a video call to include family. The necessity of being away from many of the people who we love in order to protect them and ourselves is not easy. It takes courage and sometimes you have to be strong for other friends and family members who are struggling with the concept of distancing.  Or maybe you are struggling yourself – we all are to different degrees and at different times. We need to support each other and not let this divide us.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Outside of my art practice, most of my career life has been spent as an archivist and researcher in the heritage field. These jobs tend to deal with tradition and established fact (although there are always those who pick and choose historical facts to suit their agenda – and what the heck – even make them up!) History has lessons for us if we are willing to listen. Although not an exact template, the 1918 flu and even to some extent, the Black Death plague hold lessons for us. Officials at those times called for measures of control, but many people did not follow the restrictions, some continued to party, and many others spread conspiracy theories and blamed minority groups for the diseases. Sound familiar? As writer and philosopher George Santayana saidThose who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Habit, comfort and familiarity are a part of tradition and make adapting even harder. We tend to resent change. If we have always gone about our lives in certain ways that have been comfortable, we don’t like having to change our routines. But those nicely upholstered ruts could put us or someone else in danger, and damage the economy. There can be advantages to change in every situation – it just takes longer to find them sometimes – and the pandemic sure is an example of that. Not only is it not going away, the numbers are worse than ever. We don’t have time to slowly adapt to change, and if 8 months hasn’t been enough, what will be? We are at a tipping point – right now it’s even more urgent.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Hallowe’en was something that made me hopeful though. Some of the traditions around Hallowe’en changed, but the changes weren’t major, so that’s maybe why people adapted more easily. It is a fairly safe holiday since trick or treating is outdoors. The weather was great, so the kids could show off their costumes. In some cold, snowy years they all look like Scott of the Antarctic! I’m always impressed with how polite the kids are and none of them complained about having to do things a bit differently. In fact, some innovations made it more fun! People came up with clever ways to give out candy from a distance. We set up a candy chute – the kids put their bags at the bottom and we sent the candy down the chute from the top. They had lots of fun with that and we might even make it a new tradition every year.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Stay safe. Wear masks. Keep distance. Wash your hands. Don’t form human clumps indoors. You know, the usual. And yes, after 8 months it is the usual. Courage my loves.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal – Community

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I touched on the topic of community in my last post when I mentioned that I grew up on a farm, where everyone pitched in to help and care for whoever needed it. Part of what community means is having people you can count on to help out through the tough times. That seems to have gone disturbingly off course with some during the pandemic, but then crises tend to reveal character, for better or worse.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

I am fortunate to have good community around me in the many circles that define community, but I am also among those who have been mocked and assailed for keeping myself and others safe. So unsettling and shabby. Staying strong to fight this pandemic is exhausting, especially when there are those who are not only refusing to carry their share of the load, but are adding to the load and confusing strength with weakness. Setting boundaries and disconnecting from that negativity is a struggle, but can ultimately be a solace if we do it in a way that does not make the divide greater. We can shore up our strength to deal with life’s challenges with the help of the supportive people and communities around us. And we need to take time for rest and peace and enjoying life, albeit within the necessary constraints of life in the time of a pandemic.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

I love the message in Buffy Sainte Marie’s powerful poem/song Carry It On:

What is your attitude

Are you here to improve or damn it

Look right now and you will see

We’re only here by the skin of our teeth

So take heart and take care of your link with life                                                      

September is the month for the anniversary of 9/11, and at that time in Gander, Newfoundland and nearby towns, the concept of community extended to strangers who had “come from away” and who were treated with great compassion during a time of crisis. The “plane people” weren’t judged by their politics, race, religion, ancestry, sexual orientation, or otherwise – they were simply taken care of as fellow human beings. That concept has existed not only in Newfoundland but in many cultures for generations.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

One of the “plane people”, Laura Louie, said about the overwhelming kindness she and her two small daughters experienced, “We were completely taken care of,” she remembers. “For everyone else, 9/11 has a heavy connotation. But for me it was when I was reminded what humanity is.”

A teacher in Gander at the time of 9/11, Diane Davis, said “Everyone looks at us and says that’s an amazing thing that you did, and the bottom line is I don’t think it was an amazing thing, I think it was the right thing to do.”

A USA Today story reported, “In a world today seemingly fraught with division, terrorism and hate, they’d do it all over again. Kindness is woven into the very fabric of their nature — they don’t know any other way to live.”

Karen Mills, manager of the Comfort Inn in Gander said, “No matter where you go people are good. I truly believe that in my heart. There’s 1% arseholes everywhere and if this happened where you live, you would help.”

Of course, no place or people can be categorized as being 100 % uniform in any way, but I have spent time in Newfoundland and I have experienced that kindness and generosity first hand. It should be noted however, that they are not pushovers and they do not abide arseholes.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

The people in my life who are dear to me let me know that I am also dear to them in their many ways of caring. I can relax with them and feel that I don’t need to justify why I am keeping myself and them safe. I trust them with my life. I can say to them, and they to me, “I’ve got your back”.

Courage my loves.

Posted by Marlena Wyman