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From a dancing scientist to an ICU poet, these people are making a bad time better

COVID-19 has been an exhausting onslaught of bad news. But there are slivers of optimism. Meet some of the people making it happen.

Meet a COVID obit writer, bedroom music maker, dream illustrators, among others

COVID-19 has been an exhausting onslaught of bad news. But there are slivers of optimism. COVID scientist Krishana Sankar, left, has been dancing. Dr. Laura Hawryluck, middle, writes poetry about what she sees in the ICU. Hannah Bussiere-Kim makes music in her bedroom, under her alter ego Luna Li. (Krishana Sankar/Jordana Goldman/Luna Li)

It's been a pretty terrible year. But COVID-19 has caused many to persevere and find creative ways to pass time and carve out opportunities that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

The CBC's Haydn Watters has spent the pandemic telling stories of people trying to make a bad time better.

From pandemic babies and amateur senior athletes to unlikely dating farmers and new friendships between COVID long-haulers, their stories are the focus of For The Best, a CBC Radio holiday special hosted by Watters about the best in people at the worst of times.

  • For The Best airs Friday, April 2 at 5 a.m. ET and Monday, April 5 at 4 p.m. ET on CBC Radio One or listen anytime above.

Here's a look at some of the people trying their best to cope.

The dancing scientist

Scientist Krishana Sankar has been swamped with all things COVID-19. 

To help get her mind off the virus, she started dancing alone to soca in her living room. Unable to go to the gym, Sankar thought others might want to join in so she offers up a free weekly Zumba class online, particularly for health-care workers.

"You don't need to be an expert dancer," she said. "It's all about the fun."

From dance hall to Afrobeat, Sankar's playlist is widespread. She hopes it lets dancers shake out the stress of COVID and plans to keep it running even after the pandemic ends.

"I'm constantly choreographing pieces in my mind," she said. "This is what has been helping me get through."

The dream illustrators

Filmmakers Hanna Jovin and Adrian Morphy got people to submit their strangest COVID dreams. Then they drew them, like this dream of a woman duct taping herself to a man's window. (Submitted by Hanna Jovin and Adrian Morphy)

Early in the pandemic, filmmakers Hanna Jovin and Adrian Morphy got people to send them their COVID dreams.

They received a wild assortment of stories, fuelled by anxiety and stress: scaling Mount Everest on the back of a shark; having a big family dinner in a grocery store aisle; and leg hair growing so long, it turns into asparagus.

They drew each using a vibrant palette of pinks, purples, yellows and blues.

Having COVID-19-related dreams? Two Toronto filmmakers want to draw them

CBC News Toronto

12 months ago
2:35
Hanna Jovin and Adrian Morphy say many, including themselves, have been experiencing strange and vivid dreams since the pandemic began and the pair decided to illustrate and share them on social media. 2:35

Jovin said they illustrated the dreams to help others feel less isolated while stuck at home.

"Dreams are the only time that we really get to leave that space and get to explore other places," said Morphy. "When we illustrate them, we're able to step back and laugh at our own mind."

The COVID obit writer

Megan Costa used to skip over the obituaries, but COVID has given her a new understanding.

She's one of the journalism students contributing to a Maclean's project called They Were Loved, honouring Canadians who died of COVID. Costa wrote about Doris and Dianne Chin, a mother and daughter who both died of the disease. She interviewed Natasha, Doris's granddaughter and Dianne's daughter.

"My biggest fear, I think was, I would do a disservice to her and her family or I would insult her," said Costa, a fourth-year student at Ottawa's Carleton University. "But the minute I started talking to her, she was so open and she was laughing … and we cried on the phone together too."

She spotlighted Doris's resilience and tenacity — she immigrated to Canada from Jamaica and opened a Jamaican bakery — and Dianne's dedication to family. She worked as a caretaker at a hospital.

Writing the obituaries has helped her understand the virus' human toll.

"It really kind of puts things in perspective ... and makes you realize these are people," she said. "They lived extraordinary lives."

The bedroom music maker

Hannah Bussiere-Kim is the brainchild behind Luna Li. Like most musicians, she has been staying in this past year. Unable to play live, she started posting short jams from her bedroom, which were wildly successful online. (Submitted by Luna Li)

Though COVID has devastated the music industry, Toronto musician Hannah Bussiere-Kim has had a "weirdly" great year. Her musical alter ego Luna Li blew up over the pandemic when she started posting short jam videos from her bedroom.

"I would say my first big realization moment was when my Harp Jam got to a million views on Twitter," she said. "I had never gotten to a million anything before!"

Unable to play live or bubble with her bandmates, Bussiere-Kim has been playing all the instruments alone, hopping between harp, electric guitar, violin and keys.

Hundreds of thousands have watched and listened to the bedroom jams. She's since put out an EP with them, many of which soundtrack For The Best

Bussiere-Kim says she is trying her best not to think about how long it will be before she plays a live show again. 

"I'm just kind of trying to stay in the moment," she said, adding she wants to use this time to "practise, improve and just be ready for whenever we have to get back out there."

The ICU poet

Dr. Laura Hawryluck says writing poetry gives her a way to show people what it's like working in the ICU during the pandemic. (Jordana Goldman/University Health Network)

Dr. Laura Hawryluck deals with COVID everyday, up close in the ICU at Toronto Western Hospital. When she comes home, she decompresses by writing poetry about what she saw.

"Writing helps me to process my own experiences and helps me cope," she said.

The spring weather has given her more hope, as the pandemic drags on.

"I see courage every day and I believe we have strength even in hard times to cope," she said in an email.

Hawryluck wrote a poem called We Will Outlast specifically for this radio special, highlighting our perseverance and drive. 

Excerpt from Hawyrluck's poem We Will Outlast

A spiky virus spins lives awry, the loss of those held so dear.

The loss of dreams, and futures no longer clear;

Through so many masks and across distances we cry.

So many lives on standby, so many people just trying to get by;

The fears of getting ill, and no cures … still.

Yet reasons for hope and optimism exist, within this darkest of midst.

From the ICU hell zones, where the ravages of the virus call home,

From the depth of the PPE, that separates you from me,

I know this is true, I have emerged to say, 

Better days are on the way.

 

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