Dr. Courtney Howard, MD

Hallo All! I write from beside a woodstove, kids just stirring, Darcy doing yoga behind me as part of a New Years’ resolution-ish initiative from last year that actually stuck. I spent most of yesterday reading “Deep Work” and am starting my new, more efficient New Year’s plan a few days early by purposefully not checking my email before settling down to write. Apparently this works great in order to actually eventually get all the email done. I BELIEVE!!

Also, it turns out we all only have a finite supply of willpower and must steward it like a precious resource as we move through our day. Therefore, in order to facilitate a seemless transition between bed and the keyboard (as well as to reduce food waste as per NY resolution ’19) I have opted for Christmas cake for breakfast. So, really, all systems go as we head into 2021, and if I owe you an email or twenty I’m very sorry but apparently this will all work out if I just stick with the program.

How are you? 2AM conversations in the ER with community members, a summer’s worth of cross country zoom town halls as part of the leadership race and, oh, yesterday’s cursory scroll of Twitter, have gifted me with the deep insight burnout that humans need a lot of love right now. I don’t think any of us really expected to be living through a civilizational turning point this year. My Doctor-Hero James Orbinski keeps saying that this is a hinge moment in human history, happening concurrently with the collapse of the liberal international world order (I don’t often hear the end of this sentence due to the presence of my fingers in my ears and a loud voice going, “lalalalalala”), and my Dance-Hero, Canadian dance legend Margie Gills, one of the wisest humans I know, says we need to get used to “living in mid-air.”

I don’t know about you, but at 42, raised by the post-war generation, I was really expecting a lot more continuous self-improvement in this here World. I remember in Poland about a decade ago being passed by a wiry elderly lady click-click-clicking along, ski poles flashing. As she pulled away, the gap between us widening, I pictured all the waves of change she would have had to buffer in her life. She looked seasoned, as though she could, at a moment’s notice, use those poles to make a tent, a protest sign, or a gardening stake, all with perfect equanimity. I spent a few minutes feeling grateful for the more stable world I had inherited.

Well, gee. Many of us now find ourselves without that same degree of resilience training at a WTF moment, a youth spent amongst helicopter parents and Life-as-Consumer messaging having left us somewhat unarmed. I don’t have the Polish woman’s experience with global systems-change, so until I develop it (I’m sure that’s going to be fun!) I’m working with an ER doc’s hard-won learning that since I can’t control what comes through the door, I’d better just show up rested, fed, and physically warmed up enough that I can manage the widest possible range of badness without losing my temper or pulling a hamstring. I’m now basically applying my ER-shift prep philosophy to life in general. It’s not unlike being a parent and trying to keep on top of the Hungry/Dirty/Sleepy/NeedsLove quadrad in order to head off temper tantrums. So if you need me, I’ll be up here napping in the subarctic, ready to spring into action. I know many have simply not had a break between waves so I am sending you just as much energy and love as I can possibly muster.

When asked what they’re looking forward to in 2021, Vivi says “Hillary and Maggie coming back,” so the travelling pack of little Scott girls who tromp up and down our block can be reunited after our neighbours’ year away. Elodie, Darcy and I all have visions of life post-vaccine dancing through our heads. As much as I truly like being a Hibernating Hausfrau, when we watched “Love Actually” yesterday I found myself tearing up at the scenes depicting the arrivals area at Heathrow—less because the romantic plotlines were being wrapped up than because…there were so many people standing so close to one another! Got right envious of the parents jostling in the crowd at a Christmas concert. Who would ever have believed that would be more heart-wrenching than a Hugh Grant first kiss? I hope and believe we will maintain the best of the more rational world of virtual work, but I’m looking forward to the zip of human connection.

So here we are, at a tipping point in human history, having already climbed part of the mountain of COVID, being asked to keep going, to run through the finish line, to get these stimulus funds spent in service of a healthy climate, so when we can raise our gaze as the world opens up, we will find that we managed two problems at once, cared for our children as well as our elders. Meanwhile, everyone is so, so tired.

What are the resilience Coles Notes? I have been lucky this past decade to live amongst some of the wisest change-makers on the planet. Elder Francois Paulette said this summer, when I called to ask for advice during our campaign, “This is a moment where we need to reconcile with Mother Earth.” He made it clear that he didn’t believe we would get another such opportunity within the time window available to us to take productive action on climate change. Elder Be’sha Blondin (who it turns out knew my Dad when he was in Yellowknife!) said that her father told her never to tell herself that she was tired, because then she would be. And that in order to give ourselves the energy to keep going, to not be tired, we need to laugh—we need to “make our bellies rock and roll with laughter.”

In Western thought we have so often equated grinding with production. Right now though, the world needs us to unfurl creatively, to maintain peripheral vision, to generate a comprehensive differential, to embody and offer all we are capable of. As this 400m is revealed to be the most critical 800m of our lives so far, I’m heading into the New Year resolving to work deeper instead of more, to sleep so I can live more effective hours, to eat cake so I can get my emails answered.

(I’m finishing this with Vivi on my lap. The Deep Work guy never mentioned cuddling as part of it all, but I suspect he wouldn’t have quibbled with the restorative powers of butterfly kisses

Thank you for being my virtual community this year—sending all kinds of love from the subarctic. Onwards

New Years Eve 2021

"Hallo All! I write from beside a woodstove, kids just stirring, Darcy doing yoga behind me as part of a New Years’ resolution-ish initiative from last year that actually stuck. I spent most of yesterday reading “Deep Work” and am starting my new, more efficient New Year’s plan a few days early by purposefully not checking my email before settling down to write. Apparently this works great in order to actually eventually get all the email done. I BELIEVE!!"

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