Keep calm and Alberta on

Calgary Herald, Feb 2, 2014. In summer 1939, the British Ministry of Information chose the saying “Keep calm and carry on” over “Keep calm. Don’t panic” (among others) and printed a couple of million red and white posters. They were never distributed — no one ever saw them. But we’ve made up for lost time with countless riffs including my favourite: “Keep calm and zombie on.” Perhaps it’s time for a new one: “Keep calm and Alberta on.”

If you’re a praying sort, you may prefer that 1980s bumper sticker “Lord, please give us another oil boom and we promise not to piss it away.”  But we know that’s not true. Of course we will.  It’s not like we’re Norwegian or something.

I prefer the idea of modifying the old classic: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.” All five Canadian cities I’ve lived in claim that as their own but the parable holds true for Alberta’s chinooks, summer storms and commodity-based ups and downs.  If you don’t like the economy, just wait five months.

The how-low-can-it-go game of oil prices should be over by then and we can start getting back to that labour shortage. But between now and then, along with the credit counselling, I think we could use a few tips about how to keep from freaking the freak out.

For one, ignore the lady on the radio who tells you to save money by giving up the gym membership or yoga pass. Exercise reduces stress. So sweat it. But I do agree with her about cutting out the expensive coffees. You know you’re paying $1 an adjective, right?

If the act of economizing settles you, try collecting those little stamps at the grocery store to get a free knife. Peeling the tiny stamps off the roll and placing them in the tiny squares requires concentration, dexterity and patience. It’s quite therapeutic. And you get a shiny thing at the end. But Hurry! Offer Ends Soon!

Along with the pundits that offer 140 character analysis like “Stock up on the tinned goods and bottled water!” may I suggest you beef up your Twitter feed with things that make you laugh. Panoramic photos gone wrong is having a good run (Look! That crawling baby looks like a dachshund!) Consider following Canadian singer songwriter Ron Sexsmith. His groan-worthy puns are delightfully corny and every now and then he tweets a link to a video of him singing something beautiful.

Talk to an economist.  It’s not an original idea. Just ask ATB’s chief economist, Todd Hirsch. His phone has been ringing off the hook with people wanting reassurance that the sky is not, in fact, falling. “This is a very normal cycle,” he says. “It’s not that pleasant. But the biggest threat to the economy right now is not $45 oil, it’s fear.” Hirsch is all for household financial prudence but says irrational decisions — “such as ‘I’m not going to spend any money because I might lose my job’” — will lead to a downward spiral. And then, he warns: “It’s a self-perpetuating cycle, to the bottom.”

Ohm, people, ohmmmmmm.

For a little more universal vibration visit a psychic. But you may have to wait a while to get an appointment. “The more dreary things look, the busier we are and it’s stupid crazy now because people want something to look forward to,” says Janine Morigeau, who has been reading tarot cards in Calgary’s good times and bad for 30 years. “It’s one of the busiest centres in Canada for psychics and healers,” she says while shuffling her cards.”There’s a totally weird underbelly here.”

Morigeau wears out a deck of tarot cards about once a quarter, laying out the future for her clients sitting across the table. Point of etiquette: be cool if you run into your CEO on the way out — about a third of her clients are successful, prominent business men.

Finally, may I suggest that you can help keep a grip on your nerves by taking the dog for a walk. If you don’t have one you can borrow mine. He’s big and old and sore and he takes his time making his way around the block, sniffing, digging and doing those other things dogs do. He’s not fretting about tomorrow’s walk, next week’s kibble (lamb meal again!) or whether he’ll be around to get a belly rub next month. He’s just happy to be outside, exploring yellow snow, looking for bunny M+Ms and getting a scratch and some sweet talk from the neighbour. In short, he’s making the best of his day.

Those of us on the other end of the leash should take a deep breath and try to do the same. Just make sure you have some poo bags. You don’t need any more stress.

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