Oct 24 2014

Cool to be Keen

Rory Holland

The guy’s been at it over 40 years, yet he’s talking like he just discovered these things yesterday. Paul Stamets is a lover of wonder. His chosen focus of attention is fungi – in all their glory.

There are a lot of things I like in life, many that I have been at for years, but I can’t even begin to hold a candle to the devotion Paul has for mushrooms. While he is a renowned scientist, with numerous patents to his name, a sought after speaker, and an author, mostly he’s an enthusiast.

It’s really fun being around people who are totally into whatever they are into. It’s infectious. They make no apologies for their joy and are generous with their knowledge, excited to bring others into the fold. They’re the best kind of evangelists.

I bumped into an old friend in a coffee shop last week. With hardly a breath after ‘hello’ he launched into talking about his volunteer work. He’s trying to find ways to make Vancouver less lonely. Next thing, I had a necklace of silver beads around my neck. “Those represent the hundred people you know – one out of four of them feels disconnected. We need to figure out ways to draw them in!” I got it and was on board.

I’m a sucker for the passionate. It can be movies, furniture, history, or, in the present circumstance, chanterelles. It’s not so much the ‘what’ as it is the ‘why’. What’s the motivation behind being an expert in Latin American conflicts, early 20th century jazz, kombucha, or beekeeping? How does it bleed into their everyday?

The pursuit of knowing, of understanding, of trying is more than noble. As Paul is waxing poetic about spore colour and gill patterns, I am thinking – it’s just so cool to be keen.

Oct 23 2014

Heavy Peace

Rory Holland

Eyes for eyes and teeth for teeth. It’s fairly axiomatic that violence only generates more violence. I can’t think of a single instance where my anger calmed a situation, or where my threats brought any resolution. It’s the worst part of who I am, and the worst part of the human experience.

The imposition of me over you is the ultimate selfish act. I am taking what is not mine. I’m crossing an obvious line. Is there any true justification? As my brother says, my right to punch ends where your nose begins.

I have had a few times in my life where my indignation has converted into a desire to hurt. What’s worse than personally inflicting pain, is wanting someone else to do it for me – so I am removed from the personal responsibility and consequence. Hate and cowardice is an ugly mix.

There are plenty of situations in the world, horrible people doing unspeakable harm, that seem to more than justify the ‘use of force’. I have walked hospital wards full of women who are victims of gang rape, and spent time with children who were kidnapped and forced into killing and torture on behalf of their captors. If I had had a rocket launcher, definitely some son of a bitch would have been dead. But, then what?

It is hard to stand at a mass grave and embrace the concept of turning the other cheek. But, would another hole filled with their side do the trick? When does more death and destruction make something better?

Yes, I am against war. But, before I try to remove that log, I have to consider, even more, my own heart. What, or who, do I hate? Why? When has my power and might brought about a reasonable solution?

It’s time I wage my own heavy peace.


Oct 22 2014

No Words

Rory Holland

I was trying to use language to explain why at times what we experience is beyond words. It was at a dinner with a group of guys I’ve known for over a decade. They are all sensitive and caring, yet the point was rather lost on them.

But, you know what I mean, right? Things one can’t explain, those that are deep, found in the middle of heartbreak, joy, grief, love, or even hate. Rumours, or maybe complete all on their own.

It was the end of the movie. A long shot of a field of sunflowers, then another, the final scene – a bridge. They put me over the top. I found myself crying, with no warning. No use trying to describe how I felt, I just did.

I find when I can put a box of words around something, I am more in control. Whatever it is, it no longer has one over on me – I’ve figured it out. Without the language there is something other going on.

I think that might be what faith is. Not the kind with a capital F, but rather that small version, of trusting and listening to myself. The ability to rest in whatever it is that’s going on and not try to wrestle it to the ground, pin by the shoulders and shout “what the fuck are you?”

Ironically, I find poetry is the best learning place to let go of words. Metaphor becomes a guide to that blank page, the silence that is full. The other night, one of the questions from my buddies after a reading was “what does this even mean?” Precisely.

I’ve stumbled over and been tangled up by language. The need to identify and explain has diminished the very thing itself. I find that there are times when the only word that makes sense, that gives true weight to my experience, is: mystery.


Oct 21 2014

Be Here Now

Rory Holland

I am trying to pay attention to the ground underneath my feet. I’ve lived in over a dozen places, and never given so much as a glance back before moving on to the next. Where I am hasn’t been nearly as interesting as where I am going.

Yesterday afternoon I walked a half acre market garden with a farmer friend. She told me stories of the 700 folks who showed up on the weekend for the pumpkin patch, and the volunteers with developmental challenges who come to turn the compost. The wood for the harvest table is from a large Hemlock tree from down the street, and she even traded some that wood for cedar to build the outdoor classroom. That little piece of land has been nurtured for years and is now an indelible part of the landscape of the neighbourhood.

Last Friday I was out with other folks getting a tour of an Environmental Education centre. They showed us the stream ‘re-meandering’ project – to help with habitat for all the things that grow and live in the water. The little creek seemed insignificant, until a Chinook made its way past us heading up to spawn.

On Sunday I spent over eight hours in our own garden. Cleaning up the last of summer plants, harvesting yet more lemon cucumbers, eggplant and Swiss Chard. I got the garlic in and spread a healthy dose of compost on the beds. At the end of the day I was tired but feeling very connected to the where I live.

From the food on my table to the dirt on my boots – having a sense of place changes my perspective and even emotions. Mind and heart become less transient, more settled. It is good to be here, now.

Oct 20 2014

This Shit Matters

Rory Holland

We were on our second truckload of manure. Between fork loads my friend says, “you need to be pragmatic about these things”. I’d been wondering if the hay had been sprayed with herbicide or the animals fed GMO feed. “You can only go so far”.

Really? Isn’t that the slippery slope? Isn’t Stephen Harper the poster child for pragmatic? My life comes nowhere near the way I want to live- but is it so bad to have the bar set high? Should I lower my standards to meet practical realities?

A friend says her mother in law won’t invite her out to dinner because she’s always asking the wait staff if the seafood is ‘Ocean Wise’ or the origin of the beef “She thinks I am a fanatic”. Well, you are. So what?

The way I consider ‘the least of these’ is a reflection on my own humanity. What I order in a restaurant is an indicator of my compassion. What I buy will give you a clear idea of whether or not I give a shit. You can tell a lot about me by looking in my fridge.

I am on the far left side of the continuum. I talk a big game, but am hardly even on the field. Everything from where I bank to what I drive to enjoying the benefits of modern air travel – I am definitely still one of ‘them’.  But, I’ll be damned if I am going to give in and give up.

The horseshit is now in a pile, aging, up by the garden. I still don’t have the answers, but I am sure not going to stop asking the questions.

Oct 17 2014

Heart Matters

Rory Holland

There was a scene in a movie I watched last night where the main character, at that point a teenager, was trying to talk to his dad about a break up. The father was somewhat dismissive and clearly missed the fact that his son was hurting. The solution from his point of view was to simply move on. From the boy’s eyes his old man missed the mark by a long shot.

I heard a guy on the radio, a comic writer, talk about how different it is to talk about a broken heart than to feel it. The causes are so common, it’s easy for a listener, or reader, to miss the point. The pain, the sense of sadness, doesn’t translate because the experience is so – normal.

“I am sorry for your loss”. I am, technically, but really I have no idea. And it’d be pretty damn hard for anyone to understand mine either. Yet, we try. The dad in the movie – he was doing his best, but in fact, what his kid probably wanted, and needed, was “yah, it sucks to get dumped, it must feel awful.”

I walked back through Chinatown after the movie in tears. I was feeling all sorts of stuff: loss, absence, appreciation, love. God help me if someone I knew walked by, or worse stopped to say ‘hi’. They’d have had no idea, and if I was asked the dreaded question “what’s wrong?” – yikes.

The thing is, like for the boy, it’s not something that can be fixed, or tidied up, it is simply lived. These things are kept secret and deep, not because of their darkness, but because language stops short of understanding.

It’s just a broken heart. That’s all.

Oct 16 2014

Of Cow Milk and Moon Landings

Rory Holland

I spend my days talking to people about their ideas. Yesterday it began with a grad student in sustainable food systems, and ended with a guy who runs a big software company. There were a few in between – a crew starting up a new business, an olive oil importer, a woodworker, and an energy engineer. There is a problem with all of them – they have passion.

It makes them blind in their ambition. I could have told each one to quit and find a real job, but it would have fallen on deaf ears.   They don’t know what they don’t know, and they don’t care.

In each conversation there was talk of problems, set backs, and sacrifices. But, those were muted by the enthusiasm for creating, for doing what they love, and having a chance at something new, that hasn’t been done before.

It’s not all work. The software guy likes to paint, the engineer is building a community living situation with friends, and the woodworker is a huge fan of Burning Man. My sense is all of them live their lives to the full.

Being an entrepreneur isn’t for the faint of heart, or for someone that needs a lot of sleep. But, everything, from the first person to try cow’s milk, to putting a man on the moon, started with an idea and a first step.

It doesn’t have to be grand, or even economic. There is something pretty risky about asking someone on a date, or a neighbour over for dinner. How about baking a loaf of bread for the first time? Or my personal favorite these days – building a chicken coop without plans.

There seems to be only one essential ingredient to get one over the dough that doesn’t rise, the walls that aren’t plumb, or the girl who says no. Passion.


Oct 15 2014

I Take My Breath Away

Rory Holland

Evidently I breathe too fast. Both in and out.   Frankly, I never really give it much thought. Happily, it goes on without me. I figure, like a good independent worker, the lungs have got themselves covered and I can get on with other stuff.

Then again. It all starts with the breath, as they say. Makes sense, if I stop breathing, I stop….everything. But, you know, it’s really hard to take something that is unconscious and make it conscious. Yesterday morning I was encouraged to focus on taking five seconds to breathe in, and ten to breathe out. An easy enough assignment, with a positive outcome. But, then I went about my day and only remembered once I was at home in the evening.

There is this big movement toward ‘mindfulness’. It’s one bandwagon I don’t mind jumping aboard. It’s not like any of it is new as all the religions and spiritual practices seem to have it at the core. But now it is as accessible as the inhale and the exhale.

I tend to ignore the simple and go after the hard. I honestly don’t believe things can be that easy. More is better than less, fast is better than slow, then is better than now. There is no room in that equation for oxygen in, carbon dioxide out. Real life is far more complex, or so it seems.

However, I’m finding the tumbling forward isn’t really getting me where I truly want to be. It’s not only the lungs I’ve put on autopilot. There’s plenty of what I do that is habit and ritual layered over unconscious parts of me that have never seen the light of day.

Paying attention to the one simple activity that truly sustains my being upright feels like a first step of many.

Oct 14 2014

Oh to Read.

Rory Holland

I carry around a copy of Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace, like I plan to read it. The book is a monster, over a thousand pages. It’s one of those ‘important’ ones. I’ve owned it for months. I’m ten pages in.

I know reading is a good idea, and when I do it, I so enjoy it. However, I’m presently stuck. I even subscribed to the New Yorker – figuring the magazine might be a good gateway drug to larger missives. Now I think eight pages is a long article.

At dinner last night the conversation was about authors. My mother in law’s, soon to be, 80 year old husband was talking about having recently read a history of Cancer. He gave me the book. There was nothing in me that wanted to open it, even though one of the quotes on the front was from O magazine calling it a ‘real page turner’.

I’d like to blame the internet. But I can’t. Even though both my parents were voracious readers, I just never developed the habit as a kid. I think I made it all the way through high school without finishing one assigned reading. I reference “Lord of the Flies”, “The Outsiders”, and even “Macbeth” – but I’ve never read them. I have no idea what “Animal Farm” is about.

I buy books all the time. I have the best of intentions. You should see my bedside table. Yet, there’s always something else to do – like fall asleep. I know my attention span isn’t that great, but I have managed to focus on other things with a certain level of success – like I have three children that are still alive after 20 years.

If it’s the last thing I do, I plan to get through Mr. Wallace’s book that’s been weighing down my backpack. And it will likely be, given the pace thus far.

Oct 13 2014

Feelings. Nothing More than Feelings.

Rory Holland

Art says what the rest of us are thinking. Songs, poems, and stories are often the proxies for how I really feel. It’s somehow easier to have Bob Dylan sing about my emotion than for me to say it out loud.

I was driving listening to CBC. I guess it was the anniversary of Stan Roger’s death. They played his song “The Mary Ellen Carter” about a fish boat that sank and the efforts to bring her back to the surface – really deep stuff. Then there’s the last chorus:

“Rise Again, Rise Again

Though your heart it be broken, and life about to end

No matter what you’ve lost, be it a home, a love, a friend

Then like the Mary Ellen Carter rise again!”

All of a sudden I was a mess and had to pull over. It was the ugly cry alone in my car on the side of the highway. Where did that come from? Geez, I thought things were doing fine! I just felt the sorrow he was singing to so vividly. Clearly there was something going on.

I most often respond to the common greeting, “How are you?” with “excellent”. It’s just easier that way. In actual fact, I can have a really hard time coming up with the right description, and I don’t have enough Rumi memorized to have him speak for me.

It’s reflex. Habit. Decades of practice. I’m so good, I can even keep my emotions from myself. That said, years ago I was watching “The Love Bug”, and there was a scene where Herbie, the car, is contemplating ending it all by driving off a bridge. Once again, pass me the Kleenex…..go figure.

As Mr. Dylan asked “ How does it feel? How does it feel? To be on your own, with no direction home, like a complete unknown”. Good question Bob, good question.