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David Roche uncovers happiness in new book

A book of revelations by one of the Sunshine Coast’s most respected storytellers opens with an unflinching essay about the value of scars.  
Author David Roche launched his book Standing at the Back Door of Happiness April 21 at the Gumboot Café in Roberts Creek.

A book of revelations by one of the Sunshine Coast’s most respected storytellers opens with an unflinching essay about the value of scars.  

“Scars are the adopted children in the family of flesh,” writes David Roche, who was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2021 for promoting acceptance, inclusion and diversity across North America.  

Roche was born with vascular malformation resulting in an uncommon facial appearance. As a comedian and keynote speaker, he toured the globe following publication of his first book in 2008. 

“Scars are about healing. Scars are about forgiveness. Scars help us forget pain and loss,” he writes in his new collection of conversational tales and epistolary recollections, Standing at the Back Door of Happiness (And How I Unlocked It). 

The book’s short chapters were written in fits and starts over the last decade. “There’s nothing really slowly intentional about it,” explained Roche. “It’s just what happened.” 

Roche launched the memoir during a crowded release party at the Gumboot Café in his Roberts Creek hometown on April 21. His wife and creative collaborator Marlena Blavin served as master of ceremonies. “David didn’t talk about his face for six months when we met,” she recollected. “I used to think something must hurt deep down in there,” she remembered. “He’ll tell me when he’s ready.” 

shíshálh artist and anthropologist Candace Campo also paid tribute to Roche. “I’ve been very fortunate to take David’s storytelling workshops, and have appreciated it so much,” said Campo. “I’m just here with an open heart to recognize David and show my appreciation for him taking the time to write this story.” 

The book offers details of Roche’s “seriously Catholic childhood.” He dedicated four of his teenage years to seminary studies, preparing for priesthood. Instead, he became entranced by communist ideology and the Democratic Workers Party’s promise of making the world a better place. 

He ultimately left the party, but an innate sense of compassion guided his next steps. Becoming a co-founder of a hospital-based therapeutic massage program in San Francisco, he learned that caring and connections can also be rooted in tangible, tactile experiences. 

“The first time I was asked, ‘Do you still follow Catholicism?’” he said, “my answer was: no, but Catholicism still follows me.’” 

Roche describes with matter-of-fact candour the lifestyle and graphic end of a friend felled by the AIDS epidemic. He witnesses the medically assisted death of legendary Wilson Creek video outlet owner Syd Valentine, an episode recounted with seraphic grace.  

Roche’s aptitude for visceral description invariably leads to self-deprecatory discursions (“I use the term ‘bad teeth’ advisedly” he explains after using the term to describe a woman at the Vancouver Drug Users Resource Centre). While remaining a clear-eyed assessor of physical uniqueness, he acquired the power of second sight: “I can see her soul,” he writes of an advocate living a hardscrabble existence on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. “I have learned how to do that.” 

When Roche turned 80, he thought he could relinquish responsibility for other people. Then, surrounded by the 100 guests who attended his birthday celebrations, he changed his mind. “I was having people tell me: ‘David, you changed my life.’ They gave a positive view of me that was kind of overwhelming. I realized: I’ve got to keep going. And always in community — I’ve always survived and thrived in community.” 

David Roche’s Standing at the Back Door of Happiness is published by Harbour Press and is available from all Sunshine Coast booksellers: Upstart Upstairs and Reasons to Live in Gibsons, Talewind Books in Sechelt, and the EarthFair Store in Madeira Park.