Jul 30 2014

Be Like the Garden

Rory Holland

Things have taken their own course.  After the months of spring and the work to prepare, plant, and organize, now comes the middle of summer – when the zucchini overtakes, the berries subside, and the desire to get my hands dirty just doesn’t hold the same appeal it did just those few weeks ago.

Each morning I pour a cup of coffee and wander up to see what’s happened since yesterday.  I’ve done this often enough that I notice subtleties – like the way the grape finds its grasp on the arbour Aidan and I built, how, even with netting, the birds have managed to get at all the ripe blueberries, or that the honey bees have a thing for oregano, but not so much Russian sage.

In that fenced area my world becomes smaller and slower.  Maybe it’s the concentration of stuff, or the time of day, but it all seems so vivid and happening – everything growing at the same time. On the surface plants eating light, supporting the engorged result of their sex, underneath roots reaching for water and doing deals  – trading starch for nutrients.

Pushing back the borage to find the path I was thinking about domestication and cultivation.  Us imposing ourselves on the natural processes of succession and balance.   As I walk I see squash growing where we didn’t plant, horsetail threatening to dominate, aphids claiming the broccoli, and I am wondering if that’s not how it should be, everything finding its own rhythm.  Then again, maybe it’s just an excuse not to weed.

The garden this morning reminded me that now is a bit more of a wild time – loose and relaxed. Like the plants, it’s ok to be disorganized, we can take advantage of the sun, and enjoy the company of those around us.

Jul 29 2014

Buh Bye Boys, Have Fun Storming the Castle

Rory Holland

Yesterday I dropped off my eldest son at the airport – he’s heading back to Halifax where he lives. Today, I’m helping my middle son move out of his basement suite in preparation for him moving to Montreal.  The youngest is home for the summer, but I suggested to him that it might be good if this is his last one at our house.

I dearly love my boys, I just don’t want to live with them anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, they are great, great guys, and I really enjoy their company. But, I think, my job as a parent is to help them become independent and capable – and that’s damn hard when there is free food in the fridge, cars full of gas, a mum who does laundry, and a dad who has no shortage of unsolicited advice.

That said, they have crafted lives for themselves that I am terribly proud of, and they are making choices that, so far, have had more reward than consequence.

The parenting ‘job’ has shifted for Lisa and I.  There is much less directive talk and a lot more consultation.  There are more and more peer-like conversations about ideas and opinions.

Of course I want to tell them what’s best for them and jump in and fix their issues and problems – it takes effort to stand back and be quiet – much in the same way it did when we had to let them cry themselves to sleep without a bottle, or go on their own to their first day of school.  Independence is hard work – for everyone.

So, by the end of August, after Lisa takes a trip back to help each of them set up their new homes (yah, I know, there’s a weaning process…) we’ll all be on our own. One big, not together, family.





Jul 28 2014


Rory Holland

Last night at dinner with the family the talk was about lesbians.  Seems we know more than a few folks who have come out over the last while, and one straight friend who has a short hair cut.

For my boys, being gay is a total non-issue.  I wish I could have said the same thing when I was their age.  When I was in my 20’s my best friend came out and I didn’t handle it well.  I was an enthusiastic evangelical Christian clinging to the ‘literal’ truth of the Bible.  My words and actions denied who he was, my ignorance inflicted damage that took years to repair.

If my kids are any indication – we’ve come a long way in understanding and embracing diversity. Yet,  there’s still some distance to go.  Entire nations consider homosexuality a crime – punishable by death.  Entire religions claim it’s an abomination.

It’s Pride Week in Vancouver.  Sure it focuses on particular orientations – but given the oppression and ignorance the LGBTQ community still face – clearly there’s a need to over compensate just to get close to the middle.

Come to think of it – we could all do well to better celebrate our identity – to be open and candid about who we are.  I don’t think the gay community holds any exclusive on closets.

Jul 27 2014

This is the Captain Speaking

Rory Holland

I watched a short video of an 82 year old guy, Charlie, attending Burning Man for the first time.  Each year, since 1986, in the middle of the Nevada desert, a temporary city appears in the dust and heat for a few days at the end of the summer.  Forty thousand people gather – to create, support, express, and generally, creatively, carry on.  Charlie had decided to join in.

At one point in the film he looks in the camera and says “Hello Charlie, nice to meet you.” This man had over eight decades of his own company, but, it seemed, he was just then experiencing a sense of really knowing himself.

I am defined by my everyday:  I am a father, husband, mentor, friend, brother, business guy, and sometimes writer.  They are all me, but not completely.  Generally, to the outside world, I present as a composite.

But, then there’s me on a dance floor, or hiking alone on a sand dune at dawn, or rehearsing a scene for an acting class. In each instance I have felt totally myself but in the same moment not sure as I have no real precedent, and no one endorsing it.

In therapy once I read a poem I had written about being at the wheel of a ship, but was worried as my dad, the Captain, was just below decks. I felt this was a breakthrough and I was finally getting to an understanding of the relationship with my father.

“Who’s below?”

“I told you it’s my dad, it’s him I’m always trying to please”

“Think again, who’s the Captain?”

I am the creator of my own molds. I am the one who dictates terms.  I certainly don’t want to wait until I am in my eighties to be introduced to myself.

Jul 26 2014

Never the Diplomat

Rory Holland

In my car I was listening to a radio interview on how to appear intelligent at a dinner party (I know, if one needs instructions, well, then, just maybe…..), the guest said something I want to take to heart: “I’m the only one who hears myself not speaking”.

I was asked to attend a special meeting at a University to discuss how they can increase their profile as a research institution.  The room was full of smart people.  The President gave a long, sometimes interesting, speech about their predicament.  I had made the choice not to speak – choosing instead the approach of nodding my head and pretending to take notes.  I thought this safe, given the brilliance around the room and the likelihood that anything out of my mouth would confirm their suspicions that I was the ‘one of the things that didn’t belong there’.

But, then I heard “ you need to buck up and stop making excuses”. All eyes turned to me.  Clearly a statement like that needed follow up justification.  But, that’s all I really had, the rest was filler – mostly to cover my tracks.  Sheesh.

Is it any surprise then that my friend who was elected to Canada’s Parliament once told me: “Rory, if I ever get to a position where I can appoint Diplomats, you won’t be one of them”.

I’ve been described as: direct, plain speaking, and candid.  I’m thinking those are euphemisms for something much worse.   I’d prefer: thoughtful, engaged, and mysterious.  All to say, I plan on becoming much smarter over this next while simply by keeping my mouth shut.

Jul 25 2014

Well Spent Time

Rory Holland

I don’t wear a watch.  I’ve tried, but just haven’t been able to make a habit of it.   That said, if I did, it’d have to be to analogue.  I like how the face gives context – not only a now, but a before and after as well.  I know there’s big value in living in the present, but I don’t think even the Buddha would have worn digital.

You’d think given my lack of wrist watch I wouldn’t put much importance on the time.  Not so.

I can’t sleep in, I walk fast, and I hate being late.  Nothing feels better than getting into bed having ‘sucked the marrow’ out of a day.  Yet, how conscious am I when mowing the lawn, going to Hawaii, taking a nap, or eating a peanut butter sandwich?  Is there more going on there than the activity itself? Does it matter?

Time is finite, perishable and non-renewable. No matter what all those self help books say, it can’t be slowed down, accumulated, bought, managed or saved. However, it can be spent, lost, and wasted.  The sun rises and sets without frankly giving a shit about me.  The minutes are moving past regardless of my choices.

All to say, my days are a most valuable currency, so what am I spending them on?

I think about artists who take an unintentional vow of poverty because the act of creating means more to them than financial stability. Then I contrast that with my friend, a lawyer, who makes big money, yet talks of quitting every time we get together for dinner.

I’m in yoga class. The breathy voiced teacher at the front encourages us all to seek an intention for our practise.  I stop from being distracted by the old woman in front of me who can keep her heels on the ground in downward dog, and consider: Why am I doing this? What is its worth?

It occurs to me that I would do well to give that some thought, outside the studio, when I don’t have my ass in the air.

Jul 24 2014

Courage to Accept

Rory Holland

Since my teenage years I’ve known the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.  My mum was a member of AA.

I like the word courage, it’s an active word that implies a knight in shining armour versus the damsel in distress of serenity.

Yesterday I had a good hour long conversation over salad with one of my favorite ex-addicts.  The topic came around to changing and accepting. I suggested the idea of acceptance was a synonym for resignation.  “God, grant me the serenity to acquiesce, to give up, to roll over, to settle for less, etc.”

“Rory, for the longest time I thought the work of that prayer was this much about change (arms open wide) and this much about acceptance (hands within a foot of each other in measurement). I now see them as almost equal, if not more bias toward the latter”.

He went on to challenge my ideas – suggesting there is real activity in letting something go, in embracing what is, and finding peace with that.  Of course AA doesn’t hold any exclusive on that – Buddha’s pretty big on it within the 4 Noble Truths, and Jesus spent a fair amount of his three years on tour talking about the same stuff.

All that said, Gandhi said we were to be the ‘change’.  I mean who wants to describe themselves as an agent of acceptance?

Yet all day long I am confronted with people, plants, and places that stand outside of my control.  Further, or closer I guess, I am faced with parts of myself that stubbornly don’t conform to the way I think I want to be.  Accepting all that is damn hard work!

To which my friend grins, and takes another bit of kale.


Jul 23 2014

Going Beyond

Rory Holland

Going Beyond

I am reading a book about the first expedition up Mt. Everest.  There is a point where George Mallory writes writes home to his wife “today we have gone beyond the maps”.  It got me thinking that the whole world is mapped now – there is really no more ‘beyond’.  But, of course there is.  Just, it’s not geographical, it’s personal.

I remember guiding in the mountains and reading topographical maps to find our way.  It was a matter of matching a bearing with the contours to determine the best route.  Once, in a dense whiteout, I had a group of seven teenagers behind me as we were making our way across a snowy ridge. I had looked at the map, determined the direction – but it just didn’t feel right.  I decided, on my own, that we needed to be further to our right.  Within an hour we were off the side of the ridge heading north, instead of west – clearly the wrong way. Second guessing the force of the magnetic pull on the compass needle hadn’t been such a good idea.

Similar to those mountains, my life has pretty much been mapped out– my history, upbringing, the society and culture within which I live – all tell me where I am, and often where I should be going.   Conventional wisdom and expectation are well worn trails.

However, like that time on the ridge, I don’t always trust the map knows best.  Intentionally veering off course, I want to walk past the point where the lines are drawn to that blank space, my own unknown.

Stepping beyond can be fraught with danger.  It’s the place where all is new, I have no precedent. Life there is vulnerable and vivid. I am both leader and follower, choosing and submitting at the same time.  My decision making is best guess, but the experience itself will determine the result.  Fears, abilities, thoughts and resolve  - dormant in the normal course, rise up, surfacing as circumstances demand.  When I move beyond my map, I am no longer tourist, I’m explorer.

I may not find myself on a windswept ridge, or an ocean facing high seas – instead, maybe, it will be a conversation initiated, a decision made, a direction taken.

The only requirement is an outcome uncertain, a push beyond the expected, the safe. It’s asking the question “why not?” when the voice in my head says I can’t.  Maybe it’s right, but I won’t know until I step out beyond my maps.




Mar 25 2014

Dispatch #55 This Is The End

Rory Holland

5:50am.  Headlamps on, we are underneath the toilet and shower block. The compost crapper is full and needs changing – now. “I started my time on the farm doing this and am now ending it the same way” Lisa says as she provides expert direction to Charl and I.

There in the dark, poetic symmetry.

Much has changed since we first arrived that early January afternoon. My boots are now well worn and hands calloused. I’ve cinched in my belt.  I am comfortable around large animals, and can kill and skin a rabbit.  I know the biological difference between cow and horse manure.  I understand the optimal carbon-nitrogen ratio for compost. I’ve been pleased to learn that trying, failing, and trying again is part of a farmer’s everyday.

I’ve spent much of the last three months a fair distance from my normal zone of comfort.  Most days I’ve been deeply challenged to pay attention to how I live and the consequences of my seemingly insignificant actions.

Now we are just a few hours from packing up and saying goodbyes.  We’ll pull out of the drive for the last time enlightened and jaded, inspired and disillusioned, educated and ignorant, tired and energized.

After changing the tanks, Lisa and I walked back through the long, wet grass to our van for our ritual morning coffee before the day begins.  Had to smile thinking of the long, strange trip it’s been. We’re the same as before, only different.

This is my last dispatch. Thank you for reading.  I welcome thoughts, ideas, comments, and questions.  roryholland@mac.com


Mar 25 2014

Dispatch #54 Almost

Rory Holland

I remember being in a gallery with Lisa. It was the end of long day of looking at art.  I was standing in front of an astounding painting. Moved to tears by the emotion captured on the canvas, I turned, glassy eyed, to express my feelings. Lisa cut me short with: “I’m done.”

Here, with just a couple days left on the farm, I totally get where she was coming from.  Stick a fork in me – I’m cooked.  The pedagogical benefit of turning another compost pile, or chopping down more weeds, is running off rather than sinking in.

I’m clearly not the only one.  This morning, as we were making our rounds collecting after the cows and horses, we cruised by and saw folks, who should be onto their chores, idly making coffee at their tent, sleeping in, and even meditating. It’s clear that some have already left, even though they’re still here. I can’t blame them, it’s not laziness, but more like pushing one’s chair back from a big meal but staying at the table.

Some here have well articulated resolves and takeaways – a farm in Rhode Island, a roof top market garden in Queens, or a Teaching Institute in Zululand  - while others are still not certain whether they’ll turn left or right when the reach the end of the driveway.  Clarity of purpose or no – the overriding consensus is – let’s get on with it.

It’s only been three months, and I’ve been to camp before so I know better than to get caught up in the ‘everything’s going to be different now’ – but the intensity of the experience cannot be underplayed.

When the fat lady sings on Thursday it will momentarily mark an end, but then, it’ll all start for real.