Oct 31 2014

All Hallow’s Eve

Rory Holland

Imagine getting to dress up, collect as much free candy as you can, AND blow things up. It was definitely the best night of the year, by far. For a costume, I had two go to’s: hobo or hippy. Simple, easy, and, other than a little soot from the fire for a beard, no make up. Nothing restricting. Nothing flammable.

Firecrackers were banned pretty early on in my Halloween career, which just made them all the more cool. There were rumours they could still be bought in Chinatown. I’d go down there with my friends. We’d pretend we were looking at paper fans and the tiny ceramic buddhas, then quietly ask the clerk if they had any. I’m not sure if it was the gang of six twelve year olds gathered together in the store that did it or what, but we’d always leave empty handed, or having only bought one of those paper lanterns or wooden snakes.

We were tireless filling our pillow sacks. Apples, homemade stuff, and those molasses things never made the cut. We could out last the folks at the door. Long after it was reasonable, we’d still be ringing doorbells. By then they were just happy to get rid of what they had left. It was an annoying, but winning strategy.

It was total freedom, out in the dark, with too much sugar, and matches. It’s a wonder we still have eyes and all our fingers. But, that’s what made it awesome, the not-so-safe danger.

I’m kind of past that now. I don’t dress up, and we don’t even carve a pumpkin. Our house is too far for trick or treaters to bother. But, if you happen to know where a guy could score some atoms or mighty mites I’d be most obliged….Happy Halloween.

Oct 30 2014

How Good Am I?

Rory Holland

“I’m a total hypocrite, the milk in my coffee is from grain fed cows” says the local farmer who does all she can to raise and slaughter animals ethically. While I am challenged by her commitment, I wonder if the bar might not be set a little too high. She would say that kind of thinking is a slippery slope down, probably ending up at a McDonald’s.

I try to be a good person, and, on most days, I find myself on that end of the spectrum rather than the other, that being a total asshole. But, it is a continuum, not an either-or. I screw up, I make bad choices, I do the wrong thing – even on purpose. If the world were binary, and there was no middle ground, no points for trying, then I’d be hooped – I think we all would.

I grew up in a religion that suggested it wasn’t about being good, but rather being forgiven. There is the assumption, probably right, that we can’t actually do the right thing like we want, and so we need to simply accept that and the grace that comes with it. I think the point is it removes the worry that we might be asked the question “well, how good are you?” – there is just no value in the answer.

In the end, for me, it comes down to the classic parental advice ‘do your best dear, that’s all I can ask, but no matter what, I love you’. With that, my friend can rest easy with her morning coffee. It’s ok. It happens. All the time. And frankly, if the origin of the milk is her greatest concern – she’ll likely do just fine.

Oct 29 2014

Over Thinking

Rory Holland

My compost hasn’t been turned in over ten days. Its temperature has dropped. I am neglecting my duty, and frankly, it’s causing me stress. I’m not sure, but does that fall into the category of first world problem?

I choose the strangest things to get worked up about. If I have coffee now, what about when I meet that guy at nine? Does the lady who sits at the front desk of our apartment notice that I’ve worn the same pants every day this week? I know, I know. Imagine the shit I could get done if I used my thinking time for good.

Oddly, in other parts of my life I just stumble along without much plan, and less thought. Over the years, I have developed imperceptible (to me) habits and rituals that get me through anxiety and emotions. Most are benign coping mechanisms that help distract from what is really going on in my head.

I like having a glass or two of wine in the evening. As I’ve mentioned I’m working with a coach to help me sort through some of my personal noise. He asked me about my evening habit “you don’t have an alcohol issue, but every night? What’s going on?”

As we talked I came to realize that my nightly routine was in response to growing up in an ‘uncertain’ household – opening the bottle is part of a ritual to remind myself that all is calm, all is ok.

When I am conscious enough to stand outside myself, I see how I’ve wired things – but they aren’t solutions, just elaborate bandaids. I am perpetuating the stories rather than resolving them. Instead diversions, what if I really pay attention and deal with the discomforts head on?

Ok, anyways, glass of wine anyone?

Oct 28 2014

Who I Am Voting For

Rory Holland

I was at a political event last night. I showed public support for someone running for office. I have the button on my coat to prove it. I think the last time I was that close to politics was when I shook Trudeau Sr.’s hand back in the ‘70’s.

Actually, I have been involved since then. I supported my friend to get elected to Parliament in Ottawa. Right guy, wrong party. The mistake I made there was I was thinking about myself, and my friendship, not the people that really need government.

Whatever party’s in power – it doesn’t really matter to me. I’ll do fine under any colour or stripe. I think the job of elected officials is to act on behalf of those who don’t have the same opportunities or voice that I do. We give them money so that they can take care of those who need it most – from the environment to the homeless. Of course I benefit from clean water, old growth forests and a strong social safety net – but my ‘x’ on voting day isn’t about me.

Government, almost by definition, should be socialist. The role is to redistribute a portion of the wealth to make sure everyone has a chance to thrive, or at the very least survive. There is no such thing as trickle down economics – the money just doesn’t make it to the bottom rung on its own.

Politicians have no business in the boardrooms of the nation. Business takes care of business – industry has managed to do just fine no matter what side of centre the reigning party is on.   Yet, the poor have no lobbyists and the old growth trees no political clout.

At its best, voting is a selfless act. It is compassion for all who need the support, the help, the justice, the protection, and the safety that our collective will can provide.

Oct 27 2014

The Price of Checked Bags

Rory Holland

“ People in life come and go, experiences happen, I don’t take any of it too seriously or hold on, even death isn’t such a big deal,” said the Nutritionist from Los Angeles. This was table conversation over breakfast yesterday.

I am not sure what the group was initially talking about, but it came around to the idea of attachment and gripping life too tightly. I found myself saying out loud “I want to live like that!” I do. I don’t think it’s a case of caring less, rather it’s not having ‘life’ take over the living of it.

I hold on to it all. It matters. A lot. My successes, my failures – my kid’s successes, their failures. What I have gained, what I have lost. Where I have been, where I am going next. Who loves me, who hates me. It can pile up like baggage and I’m trying to get it all on the train before it leaves the station.

Oh, and my luggage is often not enough. I have to grab on to others as well.

I had a very freeing moment a while back. I was sitting outside a coffee shop. A small dog was tied to a railing next to me. Someone walked by and the dog lunged to the end of the leash and started barking up a storm at the person. They looked at me with disdain. I calmly replied, “it’s not my dog”.

The thing is, most of the crap I cart around falls into that category. Either I don’t own it, or I can’t do a damn thing about it. So then, why am I bothering? I think of the advice a great friend has given me on numerous occasions: “Rory, just let it go”. It’s time to pare things down to a carry on.


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.