Spring Gillard

Living in Joy

pondWhatever you do, make it an offering to me – the food you eat, the sacrifices you make, the help you give, even your suffering. – Bhagavad Gita

We can’t give anyone joy or security by increasing her bank account or adding to his collection of vintage wines. Of course, a well-chosen gift given at the right time is always welcome, but whatever the gift, we should guard against the nagging expectation of getting something in return. The moment we expect reward or recognition, we are making a contract.

Even parents and children suffer from this contractual relationship. Parents can help their children tremendously by avoiding the “I did this for you, therefore you do that for me” approach, encouraging them instead to follow their own star.

In the spiritual lore of India, it is said that God whispered only one word in our ears when he sent us into the world: “Give.” Give freely of your time, your talent, your resources; give without asking for anything in return. This is the secret of living in joy and security.  – Eknath Easwaran, Thought for the Day

Tiny Vancouver Special

teenyhouseOur Mayor took part in the annual homeless count recently. The City had hoped to eliminate homelessness by 2015. Instead, they found 536 people sleeping on the street this year, up from 154 in 2011. I came across this tiny Vancouver special as I walked the Chinatown neighbourhood over lunch one day. The art installation by Ken Lum is a commentary on poverty and homelessness and the gentrification that has gripped the neighbourhood. The tiny house is a replica of the omnipresent, lackluster but spacious 1970s “Vancouver Special” that could be had for around $45,000. As small as this tiny house is, it is still eight times larger than what you could buy for 45 grand today. There is a tiny cut out in the front of the house platform that shows what that money would currently buy. Architects and developers are eyeing narrow lots in the neighbourhood, convinced that teeny condos are the answer. I’m all for using small lots efficiently, as long as they are dedicated to social housing. This tiny house is on Union Street just off Main. You can watch a video here.


Maladjusted_pills_HIGHPopular theatre is used by some adult educators as a process to explore diverse and often controversial issues. I have participated in a couple of interactive productions where I stepped onto the stage and became one of the characters midway through the play. It is a remarkable and engaging experience with frequently surprising results. Artistic Director David Diamond of Theatre for Living is a proponent of this interactive form of community theatre. I am going to check out one of his wildly successful productions this week at the Firehall Arts Centre. According to the website, Maladjusted “explores the mechanization of the mental health system and how stigmatization of mental health issues happens inside the system itself.” The play was “created and performed by mental health patients and caregivers is a ‘true voice’ that seeks local solutions to this issue in terms of ways to provide and receive more ‘human centred’ care.” Maladjusted runs through Saturday, March 28th.

A New Day

persiantableIranians celebrated the Persian New Year on Friday. Nowruz or “new day” is marked on the first day of spring. One of the Nowruz traditions is to set a table that includes a variety of symbolic items, such as a mirror (sky), an apple (earth), candles (fire), and a goldfish (animals). Rose water is said to have magical, cleansing powers, wheat or barley sprouts symbolize rebirth and painted eggs represent humans and fertility, coins are for prosperity. The table would not be complete without traditional Iranian pastries such as baghlava, toot, and naan-nokhodchi and a book of poems from one of the great Persian poets such as Hafiz. One of our students, who is Iranian, set this beautiful table at work this week. Happy Nowruz and welcome spring.

Mint Condition

Spring Gillard, Ball Girl, Wester Canada Lottery, 1985A friend sent me this photo recently of me back in the day. He worked for BC Lotteries and I worked for the Western Canada Lottery Corporation. As previously posted, I was the Ball Girl for the Lottery show for a time, along with my duties as Creative Supervisor. I joined the lottery corp just as BC was splitting off from the WCLC. BCLC is celebrating their 30th anniversary this April. I recall my first boss at WCLC saying the lottery was “a license to print money.” He didn’t last long in that position, but the lottery is still a lucrative enterprise. Certainly our government has come to rely on that alternative mint, non-profits too, although they are getting a smaller piece of the pie now.

Nature Girl

limberlostAs a child, my mother’s favourite book was A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter, published in 1909. So naturally I wanted to read it growing up. I checked it out of the library when I was 11 or 12. However, part way in, my mom took the book away from me as she said my behaviour was changing as a result of reading it – and not in a good way. I do really disappear inside of books, so it is possible I was reacting to my mother as if she were the cold and self-absorbed mother character in the book.

I recently bought the book for my mom and read it myself. In the end, the mother reforms and all ends happily ever after. But what struck me about the book then and now was the real life Limberlost itself, a fertile wetland and forested area in Indiana that was already under threat from logging and resource extraction. Under the tutelage of the Bird Woman, the young “girl of the Limberlost” becomes a naturalist herself. I remember falling in love with the Limberlost when I was a child, and relived the magic when I read it all the way through this time. My love of nature was strong even back then and perhaps it was that book that first stirred my inner activist. Sadly the Limberlost is no longer, but the issues the book raises are still with us today. Any young person would be inspired by the young naturalist that Stratton-Porter brings to life and the very real and beautiful natural world she defended.

Hats Off

totemThe beautiful Kwakwaka’wakw Centennial Pole in Hadden Park, Kitsilano Beach in front of the Maritime Museum is in need of support. Artist Mungo Martin carved the pole with his nephew Henry Hunt and his son David Martin back in 1958. The ten figures on the pole represent the ten Kwakwaka’wakw clans. This pole is an exact duplicate of the commissioned totem that was presented to Queen Elizabeth to mark our centennial. That 100 ft (30 m) pole, which was carved from a 600-year old cedar from Haida Gwaii, was placed in Windsor Great Park in England. The Kits pole is deteriorating – its “hat” was taken off in 2009 for safety reasons. The pole has been stabilized while the City assesses it for potential restoration and conservation in consultation with the artist’s descendants. Totems are usually left to rot in place, but hats off to the city for taking measures to save this weather worn treasure.

Danny – In Memoriam

DannyI am reposting this in honor of Danny who passed away recently. Fourth Avenue is just not the same without him. This was first posted in May 2010. There will be a memorial for Danny on Tuesday, April 7th at the Kitsilano Community Centre (2690 Larch St.) from 12-1 p.m.

Everyday I walk a gauntlet of outstretched hands, from the homeless to the non-profits, everyone is looking for a handout. I never know what to do. Give, not give, buy food for them, ignore. Meanwhile I too am struggling to survive in this so-called affluent neighbourhood. When I was working on the charity/emergency food system chapter of my new book, I interviewed a couple of our local “street” people. I’d been buying the street paper from Danny for many years. Had exchanged a few words at most. Within minutes of our lunch, I realized he was not at all who I imagined he was. And he had some advice for me when walking the gauntlet.

Where would you like to eat? I asked Danny.

Capers is good,” he replied.

I was feeling more like a greasy omelette and home fries. I tried to lure him over to my favourite breakfast place.

“I’m sure you always eat there, but if you want a change, I was thinking Joe’s,” I said.

“No, Capers is healthy,” he said firmly, walking in the door of the market. Ok then, healthy it would be.

Danny is 56 years old. He wears a plaid jacket, black jeans and a baseball cap. He was born in New Brunswick. They ate healthy when he was growing up. They snared rabbits, ate deer, moose, fish and lobster. Food was plentiful. When he moved to Ontario with his mother and sister, the food was not so healthy, he told me. Campbell’s soup, Kraft dinner and spaghetti were the mainstays. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 17. Got into drinking and drugging, spent time in mental institutions and prison. He came to Vancouver 18 years ago. He has been drug free for 23 years now and free of booze for ten.

Danny has been selling  Megaphone, Vancouver’s street paper, outside of Capers for more than a dozen years. He said that’s how he learned to eat healthy. He had Hepatitis C and now he doesn’t. He cleared his liver up just by eating healthy. Even his doctor was surprised. I remember offering him a cookie once from my shopping bag, but he declined.

“I have to watch it with sugar,” he said. He is also a borderline diabetic. Danny is more health conscious than I am.

“I am self-sufficient,” said Danny. He is not on welfare. He has two jobs, selling the magazine – “ and he is out there every day, for long hours – “ and he works part time as the social coordinator for a non-profit community mental health service with a drop in centre here in the ‘hood.

Danny used to live on the downtown eastside. “I got out of there,” he said. Now he lives in a modest place in a neighbourhood not too far from this one. His rent has gone up three times since he moved there nine years ago. He used to line up in soup lines and the food bank, but now he cooks at home. When I ask if he knows about Quest Outreach Society, a food recovery agency that has several low cost stores, he says he does. The mental health place gets food from Quest for their meal programs. But he doesn’t and wouldn’t shop there.

“I don’t want to take from someone else, now that I can afford to buy my own groceries,” he says.

I tell Danny about my struggle when I walk the gauntlet. “What should I do?” I ask.

“It’s hard to say,” he says, “I contribute too.” I did not expect that answer.

In between bites of my tofu spread sandwich, I find out that Danny has his own car.

“I don’t even own a car!” I say. And he’s taking Ju-Jitsu three times a week. My whole impression of him has changed. This is just a man who works in my neighbourhood, has the same kind of struggles I do and cares about the things I do.

“There are too many in a small area,” he says. “It’s because the government has cut so many services. People don’t have anywhere to turn. There aren’t the resources to help them find the right connections. And they give up.”

When I ask him how he turned around, he said, “At a certain point, you have a choice.”

Now that he’s clean, he says socializing outside Capers with all his many friends and supporters helps to keep his mind out of its old thought patterns. He really likes his work.

When I tell him I’m interviewing a few others on “the corner”. He gets protective of me.

“Look I even ripped off my own mother to get money for drugs. I was able to make amends 20 years later though.” And then as if to soften the warning, “But we’re not all bad,” he said.

I thanked him. We shook hands. “See you tomorrow Danny,” I said.

A Green Stand

Ancient Forest by Drew Hopper via Green Renaissance

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.   – William Blake

One day, when I was a growing boy, my grandmother asked me a question, “Have you ever looked in Hasti’s eyes?” Hasti was one of the elephants that frequently served in our religious ceremonies and that I had been learning to ride. Hasti’s eyes, like the eyes of all elephants, were tiny – ridiculously small, really, for an animal so huge. “She has no idea how big she is,” Granny said, “because she looks out at the world through such tiny eyes.”

If the world seems hostile and lifeless, and if we seem insignificant in it, it is because, like the elephant, we look at it through such tiny eyes. Through those small eyes, shrunken by the desire for profit and personal gratification, we appear just as insignificant as all the green things – and all the other human beings, animals, fish, birds, and insects – that stand in the way.

When we are absorbed in the pursuit of profit, we live in the narrow world of the bottom line. In that world, our only neighbors are buyers and sellers, our only concerns property, profit, and possessions. Yet all around us is a world teeming with people, animals, organisms, and elements – a deeply interconnected environment that responds to all we do. – Thought for the Day, Eknath Easwaran

Time Change

alarmclockDaylight saving time (DST) wasn’t even on my radar yet. As a result, I did not set my clocks ahead last night before bed. I only clued in when I saw my computer clock was an hour later than the rest of the clocks in my house. Despite “springing ahead,” I’ve felt behind all day today because of my very late start. Every time we change over, I ask myself WHY? We are down to only four months on Standard Time now – so why not just stay on DST? I had heard that it was brought in so that farmers could make maximum use of daylight – but when I looked into the history, I found that that was a myth. It appears that DST was first introduced in Germany in 1916 to take advantage of natural light and conserve fuel during war time. It was introduced in the U.S. in 1918 also to support the war effort. It has been repealed and revised many times over the last century. It is now used in more than 70 countries around the world, but the time periods vary not only by country, but even within the nations. For example, Saskatchewan, Canada remains on Central Standard Time year round, even some cities in the country don’t participate. So why bother? On the west coast we complain about the dark winters, why don’t we stay in the light. I say it’s time for a change on time change. Let’s keep DST year round.