May 17, 2020

What we are going through is traumatic, real and scary. Everyone has lost something to this virus and I think it is safe to say that we’re all going through the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.) If you don’t believe me, look at your friends’ Facebook posts  and then look at your own. You don’t travel through the five stages linearly — you bounce around. I know I am right now. It’s a good idea to cut people slack — but it is even a better idea to cut yourself some slack. Take care of your mental health as well as your physical health. We’ll get through this — together.

April 24, 2020

There are 58,320 names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. The Wall covers a time span from 1957 to 1975 (it was originally 1959 but they added a name of someone who died from injuries received in 1957). That number was just a number to me — one that I could not put my mind around, until I visited the Wall for the first time in 1991. I walked silently along the path and saw the names listed one after another. My heart sank — by the time I exited the memorial I was overwhelmed. Then you’d see the tributes left behind by grieving friends and loved ones. You realized each name was a life lost. By the time I had made my way through the memorial, my perception of the number 58,320 had changed forever.

Today we’ve passed 50,000 deaths due to COVID-19 — all since the end of February. Each day, that number climbs higher and higher. Soon, the number will surpass the number of heroes we lost in Vietnam.

It’s important to remember that 50,000 is more than just a number. It represents people’s parents, grandparents, friends, children, lovers, spouses, coworkers. Each person represents a life lost and represents deep grief.

Lord be with all who are grieving, suffering and healing.

Lord be with us all.

April 20, 2020

You’d know him if you saw him. In fact, several people have stopped him in the store, asking him for his autograph. “I take it with a grain of salt — the good and the bad,” Greg Goldman laughed as he described his newfound fame. Goldman is the man you see signing during Gov. Tate Reeves’ daily press conference.

He’s arguably one of the most talked about people in the state right now on social media.

The first time I remember seeing Goldman was during Haley Barbour’s post-Katrina press conferences. That was the first time a Mississippi public official had an interpreter. Since then, he has driven the highways and byways of Mississippi helping the deaf and the hard of hearing get the information they need. He’s a contract employee and works for courts, doctors and, yes, the governor during a pandemic.

Greg Goldman is a Jackson native. Growing up with a deaf father, Goldman learned sign language from his mother at the same time he learned English. “I had planned on becoming a diesel mechanic, but I started volunteering helping those who are hearing-impaired.”  He also was a wide-receiver. That football skill would later lead him to coaching at the Mississippi School for the Deaf.

It is estimated that there are between 10,000 and 20,000 deaf and hard of hearing Mississippians. Technology has helped them stay informed, but the service that Goldman provides is invaluable. I asked him about how he keeps up with all the new terminology due to COVID-19. He said that he uses abbreviations (CV19) and explained how he signs coronavirus (the sign for crown). “Numbers are the worst. It’s hard to do math on the fly,” he said describing trying to interpret the amount of water flowing down the Pearl River during the recent flooding. One thing I didn’t know was that the signing is about 10% of how the information is conveyed. Body language is the other 90%.

Signing is truly an art form. And, Goldman is an artist.

I asked him if he had seen the New York mayor’s interpreter (who looks just like him). No, he hadn’t, but he did explain his eponymous black shirt. “It’s for contrast, so I am easy to see.  A bunch of us will wear black all the time and people think I’m Goth or depressed.”

I also asked how people who are interested in becoming an interpreter could follow along in his footsteps. “Immerse yourself in the deaf community. Hang out with people who are hearing impaired.”

I hope to meet Goldman again. He’s truly one of the nicest, most down-to-Earth people you’ll meet. You can tell this is more than a job to him. It’s a passion. And it shows.

P.S. Goldman asked for a signed copy of this cartoon. He’s on the far left getting zapped by an alien. 

April 9, 2020

With gloves on and a face mask, I made a trip out this morning for “essential business.” I left the house at 8:30 and it seemed more like a Sunday than a Thursday morning. The nearby elementary school sat dormant, with an empty playground and still buses. The cacophony of children’s voices had faded away, leaving birds chirping to fill the sonic void. A handful of people were taking advantage of the beautiful spring weather by walking on the nearby running trail. I listened to the news on my car radio and the reason why all of this happening was made apparently clear.

The virus looms.

COVID-19 had taken the life of a minister who was a dear friend of a friend of mine. Last night, I drew a cartoon celebrating his life. Here was a man who had moved so many and lifted up a whole community and, yet, he had died alone in a hospital. With Good Friday coming tomorrow, I thought of him and then Jesus’ words on the cross: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” I was heading to the post office to mail the cartoon.

It will arrive on Easter.

The post office has been modified slighting in our new COVID-19 world. The one worker (there used to be three) stood behind plastic strips like you might see on a walk-in freezer. Strips of tape marked six-foot intervals for the customers. Four of us were in there — three customers and one worker. All of us had on masks and gloves (one older gentleman walked out when I walked in — no gloves or masks. I wish him luck). I mailed the package, opened the door without using my hands, tossed the gloves in the trash and got back in my car. I used hand sanitizer on my hands and arms and went home where I removed my shoes out in the garage and went in and took a shower and changed clothes.

Part of me thinks, “OK, that is ridiculous.” Then, part of me thinks of the minister, who was about my age and died gasping for breath. Nothing is ridiculous these days. Maybe off-the-rails insane, but not ridiculous. This virus doesn’t come to play.

I thought about the postal worker, and I appreciate her taking the risk that she does just to come to work. I passed by the grocery store where the workers there take similar risks. I fired up my computer and read Mississippi Today’s coverage, and I appreciated my co-workers getting out and getting us the information we desperately need to make good decisions for our family.

One of the side-effects of the virus is that it has made me more aware of those around me and what they do for me and our community. And while the virus has done so much damage to our lives, that’s one thing that’s not so bad.

Stay healthy.

April 6, 2020

Sorry for the gap in blogs. Like many of you, I’m at home doing work, helping the kids with their school work and feeling a bit like a rat in the cage — you know, getting used to the new abnormal. I started thinking the other day, “Where will I go first when I can move around?”

Hmmm… To go see family comes to mind. And maybe a trip to the Smokies, too. I miss church and going out to eat. A live concert would be nice, too.  But until then, we’ll need to keep flattening the curve and staying healthy.

Here are a few of the places you said you’d like to go:

Ramona Fairchild Underwood My mom and/or my dad.
Carolyn Diamond To see my grandbabies in Alabama!
Melissa West Caroline, yessssssss. We’re in OB, but our families are in southeast Alabama and southwest Mississippi.
Aimee Guido I have to pick one place?? The list grows everyday! 
Beth Elliott Hear live music
Terry Van Kirk Train ride through the Canadian Rockies
Ginny Williams Squires Around the corner to see my son, daughter in love and new grandson
Melissa West Caroline, yessssssss. We’re in OB, but our families are in southeast Alabama and southwest Mississippi.
Heather Wilson Sturdivant To see my parents.
Connie Moran Seaside FL, Bahamas, New Orleans
Ellie Banks Well I want to take my trip to Disney World but that’s not the first place I want to go. The first place I want to go to is to the playground with my son and invite the whole family to join us
Marilyn Hetrick Mass at my local parish with my fellow parishioners.
Holly Widemire The Keys
Matthew W. Guinn Caet’s!
Jeff E Good my parents house in Washington state
Emily Alane Stromberg Baker My hair dresser’s salon
Jill M. Boteler New Orleans to see my daughter and her hubby, and cats and dog, of course!
Laura Kellogg Hall Other side of Brandon hugging my grandkids and the rest of my family!

Did you miss my last art lesson? Be sure to check it out here. And, don’t miss more lessons every Friday at noon.

March 31, 2020

First of all, I’m going to wish my sister Jennifer a happy birthday! Why? I know, I know, it has nothing to do with COVID-19. But, I wanted to have one minute of normalcy. So… happy birthday, Jennifer. Now, sing that for 20 seconds when you wash your hands.

Back to the regularly scheduled program.

Yesterday, I had a bishop, a restauranteur and a musician on my radio show. Yeah, I know — it sounds like the set up to a joke. I’m just missing a bar. But, there was a golden thread running through all three guests. Let me explain.

The Rt. Rev. Brian Seage, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, was my first guest. We talked about the challenges churches face now that congregations can’t congregate, especially going into Holy Week. (If you still think they should be able to, read this). He spoke of all the new and creative uses of social media that are being done out there. We discussed the mental challenges facing Mississippians and compared them to the ones that many along the coast faced after Katrina. But, then, he said something that was very profound to me. He reminded us that now is the time to give until it hurts.

Jeff Good has always made giving until it hurts part of his business model. A self-described hyperactive guy, Jeff talked about the huge economic challenges facing his restaurant business and some of the innovative ways he is trying to bring in revenue and ways to help his furloughed employees. Jeff’s plan also included giving back to this community.

Seth Power is a talented musician, based in Brandon. His new album, Souvenir, is excellent and launched with great excitement in January. Seth also is a server at Fine & Dandy — or at least he was. The two main avenues for revenue for him, concerts and waiting tables, are now on hold. Yet, if you see Seth’s Facebook page, it is post after post of helping other people.

I can’t provide you with a clear roadmap on how to get through this minefield laid by COVID-19, but the golden thread running through all three of my guest’s stories is this:

Give. Then give again. And when you are done, give some more.

Don’t miss my next art lesson on Facebook Live — this Friday at noon. Click here for more info and to join the event and be notified when I go live.

If you missed the first lesson last week, watch it here.

March 30, 2020

Nothing quite like a global pandemic and an economic shutdown to get you to start reevaluating life and how you’re living it. So I asked, “Name something you’re going to change in your life because of this pandemic.” Here are a few of the answers. The last one, by Brant Sappington, really hit home with me. Although Jill Conner Browne’s is probably the most true.

Jill Conner Browne My pants size.

Heidi Hutchings Shoemake The words “Thank you” have always been part of my vocabulary, but since this started I am using them less out of respect and more from true, genuine appreciation. It’s imperative for all the “essential” workers to know they are truly ESSENTIAL and APPRECIATED.

Susan Gandy McNeill I’m going to be more deliberate about my retail choices. I’m going to remember those small businesses who protected their patrons at the expense of sales and those who cared for their employees. It’s easy to make the fast convenient choices with our dollars but I plan to seek out businesses who did the right thing instead of the selfish thing.

Pamela Leonard I have been retooling my budget and my emergency fund. And will probably do better about keeping a pantry with good staples in it. And call my parents more often.

Lisa Moore Count all my blessings more often and realize what is most important in life. Not take anything for granted!

Butch Bailey 1. Hug every human and canine I come across that will let me. 

2. Call my mom more often.

3. Be ready to react and respond to these disruptions in the future.

Cindy Long Get together with friends more often!

Fiza Pirani Work less. Buy less. Live simply.

Kelli Scrimpshire Bridwell I will never EVER again make fun of my husband for being prepared BEFORE a crisis!

Christy Pender It’s reminded me why making healthy choices important; so your body is strong for things like this, not just to look better. So I hope that’s the thing that changes, my outlook.

Jennifer Wilson Hall Read my Bible more, pray more, more FaceTime with family…..never miss a moment to say I love you to family and friends

Mark Lyon My next condo is going to have a usable balcony. (He lives in the city).

Clayton Thornton Spend more time reading Bible and try to understand it better.

Becca Pen I’m throwing things out because whenever I pass away, I don’t want my friends and daughter to have to sort my stuff.

Brooke Vance Maier Paper towel use. We literally have one roll bc all the stores are out. It’s forcing me, in a good way, to be mindful of just how dependent on them we are. I have a drawer full of kitchen towels I am using now.

Debbie Waggener I’m going to always have a good supply of sanitizing wipes and use them consistently.

Brant Sappington I feel like this is a time of reassessment. I’m finding out, both in my personal and professional life, just because I’ve always done something one way doesn’t mean it has to be done that way. I think this is teaching me to be more open to the concept of change and more willing to look at the options and possibilities that come from being flexible and adaptable.

How will you change your life? Leave your answer in the comments section below.

March 26, 2020

The national unemployment figures have come in and they are literally off the charts. Anna Wolfe’s story today points out that they were up 600% in Mississippi and would have been higher if not for the system jamming up. People — no YOU — are hurting. We have been hit by something that is NOT our fault. Our anxiety is rising at an exponential rate that I’d guess is somewhere near COVID-19’s exponential growth curve.

We have to take care of ourselves. Stress is a killer, too.

For me, drawing is a way to relax (unless I am on an impossible deadline, but I digress). That’s one of the reasons we started doing the coloring sheets that you can find on Mississippi Today’s site. I’m taking kids (and grownups) on a tour around Mississippi. We may have to social distance but we don’t have to cartoon distance. Download one or two or more and start coloring. Take five minutes to breathe. Give your kids something to do that doesn’t involve a screen.

Tomorrow, I’ll do a Facebook Live drawing tutorial. Join in — I look forward to your comments. I’ve come across a few folks who are doing other things similar and will highlight them along the way, too.

Before I go, I am going to leave you with a quote from Apple’s Steve Jobs.

“Sometimes life’s going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.”

My suggestion is to take that brick and use it to rebuild.

And color. Always color.

March 24, 2020

Yesterday, I checked in on Facebook with some friends to see if they were OK. I got over 100 responses within an hour; people just needed to talk. Some were doing OK — plowing along through this new sea of weirdness, well, while others were rightfully anxious. Actually, they were scared. And, if you’re reading this and are also scared, guess what? That’s OK. It’s perfectly normal to be freaked out during this. These are times that haven’t been seen in nearly 100 years. That said, this is a marathon and not a sprint. While it is important to wash your hands, not touch your face and remain socially distant, you also need to take care of yourself. Mental health is just as important as physical health. This morning, I took a break and went outside. I left my phone in the house and just went out and breathed. Deep breaths — in and out. I listened to the birds and the wind blowing through the pines. I focused on the grass surrounding me. A blue heron flew in and landed nearby.

For a brief moment, I was in that moment.

Then, I went back in and went to work.

I would work 24/7 if I could. For me, one way to reduce stress is to be doing something. It’s a Ramsey thing. But this is not a good longterm strategy. Yesterday, I started working at 6 a.m. and quit at 9 p.m. One, my family, all in the same small house as I am, is going to get sick of me quickly if I don’t stop that. And, second, I’ve already been sick once this week. I don’t need to make myself sick again.

So, from here on out, I’m creating an “essential” list. I will get up early, stick to my list and knock it out. I will build in breaks to go outside and breathe. And when I am done, I will unplug. COVID-19 might get me. It might not. But I’m not going to allow the fear of it to get me first. I still have some living to do.

So if you will excuse me, I’m going to go out and walk Pip. I need to breathe.

And so do you.

Here’s a good article from PBS about the mental effects of what we’re going through and some things to look out for. 

Also, be sure to check out these coloring sheets I’ve made to help you, young and old, take some time to breathe…and color.

March 23, 2020

When I was a kid, my mother had a poster with a donkey straddled over the rail fence. The caption was “Darned if you do, darned if you don’t.” I was thinking about that poster this morning when I was looking at the latest economic numbers and then the spread of COVID-19. All the closings, which are to flatten the curve and slow the spread, have already had huge economic effects on small businesses. It’s hard on my friends who have had their lives upended so rapidly. It’s also hard on all my friends who will get ill and might not find a ventilator that is necessary to keep them alive because people refuse to self-distance. The scenes out of Italy are heartbreaking — where doctors are not treating people over 65. They didn’t shut down fast enough.

Today, the virus is here.

COVID-19 is silently spreading throughout our community. Now that testing is taking place, the numbers are growing exponentially as predicted. We can do things to help our friends in small business — order takeout from restaurants still open, buy gift cards, continue to shop when we can. And, we can also do what we can to help out medical friends. Staying home is one way to do it. Let me correct myself here: COVID-19 doesn’t spread. WE spread COVID-19 and, if we can break that chain, then we’ve helped free up a spot in a hospital.  We must do that for not only our safety but for others.

We also can stay calm and support each other.

I think about how quickly my own life has changed. I am sitting at my kitchen table writing as my wife films a lesson for her students. After I’m done here, I’m going to go do my radio show from my car (a soundproof studio). I didn’t leave my bedroom for over a week due to a chest cold I had (no testing so I don’t know if it was more serious). My son, who is home from college and now working online said that our afternoon walk feels like time in the prison yard. I count toilet paper rolls like I used to worry about my 401K (I gave up for right now on it).

How has your life changed? Let me know in the comment section below and I’ll print some of your responses on my next blog. We can do this all together. But it will get harder.

We must be strong.

Check out Mississippi Today’s COVID-19 Coverage here.

And respect goes out to everyone who is still working out there, trying to stay safe and keeping the lights on.

Cases in Mississippi so far:

[Read all of Marshall’s COVID-19 blog posts here.]

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Marshall Ramsey, a nationally recognized editorial cartoonist, shares his cartoons and travels the state as Mississippi Today’s Editor-At-Large. He’s also host of a weekly statewide radio program and a television program on Mississippi Public Broadcasting and is the author of several books. Marshall is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and a 2019 recipient of the University of Tennessee Alumni Professional Achievement Award.