Thursday, November 30, 2006


“Let there be no mistake,” says Tina.  “My social life is just about non-existent.  But then I call up this friend who I know is really busy, and she suggests we go out for dinner on Friday.  Her husband is totally caught up with work at this time of the year and she is spending her evenings alone.  And I am really surprised, because I have been thinking that I am the only person who isn’t completely booked up at this time of the year.  I am thinking that maybe if I make a few calls, I will find others who aren’t as busy as I thought.  I have had an Epiphany, and Advent hasn’t even started.”


Wednesday, November 29, 2006


There once was a boy whose parents sent him to places where the people were deaf, mean and stupid.  Take kindergarten, for example.  “Hello,” said the teacher, as he untied his shoes.  “What is your name?”


“Lowence,” he whispered.


“Pardon me,” said the teacher.


“Lowence!” he said louder, but not loud enough, it seemed.  Because she went to her desk and got a piece of paper.  “Oh,” she said.  “Lawrence!”


Standing right beside him were a big tough guy named Jason and a sniveling little girl named Andrea.  When the teacher was getting a Kleenex for Andrea the guy named Jason whispered, “Lowence eh?  Can’t even say your own name.”


So Lowence kicked Jason, good and hard!  And Jason yelled: “Owowow.  He kicked me!”  The teacher heard that.  Now the teacher wasn’t the only adult in the classroom at the time.  There was also another really mean woman, a black-haired woman who took him firmly by the arm and marched him along down to the principal’s office where he had to stand in front of a counter and talk to somebody else who also turned out to be deaf. 


The mean woman said: “This boy has been violent.  His teacher has sent him to see the principal.”


“Oh dear,” said the lady behind the desk.  “What is your name?”


“Lowence,” he mumbled.


“Pardon me?”


“Lowence,” he said louder. 


“Lawrence,” said the mean woman with the black hair.


While he waited for the principal who was busy doing other things, he crawled under a table, and when he jumped up, the table jumped too.  So did a big cup of hot coffee that spilled on some other people who were waiting to see the principal.  People started yelling, which was really stupid, because the whole thing was an accident. 


Well, as you can probably imagine, this was a really busy time for his parents, going to meetings about his behavior and chasing after him when he ran away from school, and worrying about what ought to be done to teach him to read and getting him tested so he could qualify for special funding.  Nonetheless, one Saturday morning, right when the best cartoons were on, his mother said they were going to see a speech therapist, which was really stupid because he had speech therapy at school.  He did not want to go.


Later he had to admit that the morning turned out better than he expected.  For one thing, his mother bought him a slush from the 7 11 on the corner, which was something she really never did.  And the first thing the speech therapist made him do was look at pictures and say their names. 


After they had spent some time with the pictures, rabbits, roosters, rulers and the like, she told him he had a very handsome mouth and brought a mirror so he could see it.  It was a pretty handsome mouth.  He grinned a little.  Then she showed him her mouth, and she held it just so, open a little with her tongue curled backwards, and she made this sound: “RRRRRRR.”  Actually, her mouth was quite good looking also.


Then she said something he really could not believe.  You could hold your mouth just like that and make that sound too.  Why don’t you try it!  Come on!  Try it!”” 


She was right.  You could hold your mouth just the way she held hers, a little bit open with your tongue curled back and you could make that sound!  “RRRRR!”.   Even he could make that sound!  He sounded like a dog who was getting his bone taken away.  “RRRR!” He sounded like a tiger warning another tiger to stay out of his way.  He was a pack of dogs.  He was a whole zoo full of animals, all growling their heads off.  He growled and growled until his mother and that lady got the giggles and made him giggle too, which made it tough to go on growling.


Then that lady said something really ridiculous.  Now you can say Lawrence,” she said.  “Just hold your mouth like that and growl in the middle.” This is how it will sound.  It will sound like Lawrrrrrrrrrrrrrence. 


He looked into the mirror, he held his tongue just right, and then he said it, “Lawrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrence!”  It sounded so good that he said it again, and again.  The lady said it with him.  His mother said it with him.  They marched when they said it.  They clapped when they said it.  They said it and said IT until their throats hurt. 


And after that, it seemed like there weren’t so many deaf people in the world.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


I wonder why we counselors write so much about our work, and so little about emotions.  What work, other than counselling, could be so totally fraught with
emotion?  All of us are human, filled to the brim with feelings we carry into and bring out of our work.  It strikes me as odd that, when we do write about
emotions, we put so much emphasis on learning to deal with client emotion and so little on making the most of our own.  Why, when we talk about our emotions,
do we so often phrase our language in terms of burnout and boundaries? 
 Most counsellors tell me they like their work.  So that raises a question: what could encourage us to write about counselling as the work we love, the
work that thrills us, rewards us?  Perhaps we need some leadership, an example to follow, permission demonstrated through action.   Okay, I will take a
turn.  But even as I contemplate my love of counselling, listing the practices that have made me the happiest, taught me the most treasured lessons, I
cannot think of a single publication where I would have the confidence to send such a piece of writing.  The happiness research tells us that life satisfaction
comes from the blending of three things: pleasure, personal engagement and meaning.  So here, on my blog, where I make the rules about what can and cannot
be said, are my top six hopes, based on what I have noticed about satisfaction with my work in the past, and what I hope to notice in the future.  .
 1.  I hope to ache with caring.
 I hope to ache with caring, a phrase given to me not by a counselling expert but by a children’s author, Mem Fox.  I hope to ache with caring, even though
it hurts to ache, because when I ache with caring I make one more phone call at times when I think I have explored all the options.  I write referral letters
with greater conviction.  When I ache with caring, there is more chance that I will be understood, less chance that my genuine compassion will disappear
behind a mask of professional propriety.  When I ache with caring I read more books, ask more advice, take more risks, try new things.  I am inoculated
against apathy.  I have moved beyond the conscious effort of showing empathy by paraphrasing and reflecting feelings.  I actually hurt.  It’s uncomfortable,
but I do better work when I ache with caring.
 2.  I hope to learn by listening.
 When I listen to people, really hear what they are saying, they all sound different, and I am curious.  It is the curious part of me that keeps me interested
in other people, keeps them from falling into categories, makes each of them unique.  Listening to them seems to make them more interesting than anything
else I have tried.  When I listen with open ears, open to things I would like to hear and things I would rather not, I get the answers to the big why’s
of life: why do young men carry weapons?  Why are people so resistant to taking prescribed medications?  Why do we grieve the loss of people who were mean
to us?  Why do kids skip school?  When I occupy myself by learning through listening, I am usually too busy to give advice or point out the difference
between good and bad, between right and wrong.  There is always plenty of time for that later, and my opinion seems to carry more weight if I still want
to express it after I have listened first, learned first. 
 3.  I hope to be a source of hope.
 I hope to be a source of hope, with a spongy layer to soak up more of it.  When I hope I am given an extra set of binoculars with a view of a future I
would like to be in.  Any kind of hope will do: hope that is brave enough to scare off fear; hope that is powerful enough to dislodge inertia; hope that
is tenacious enough to out-maneuver despair; hope that is bright enough to light a path through fog or darkness.  If the events of my history or the tools
in my counsellor’s collection can bring hope or find hope or inspire hope or nurture hope or foster hope or enhance hope, then these are the tools I will
use with pride.
 4.  I hope to bubble with laughter.
 I like laughing.  I believe in laughter: private smiling mirth; irrepressible giggling; gut-wrenching, teary-eyed deep breathing laughter for the fun of
it; laughter for the health of it.  To those who say we should laugh less and deal with problems more seriously, I say let us laugh if we are able; laugh
first so we can build up the strength to deal with the problems.  It is hard for me to work with people who cannot laugh.  But then, pretty much anybody
will laugh if you help them.
 5.  I hope to inspire with stories.
 I like telling stories in counselling almost as much as I like hearing them, and I really, really like hearing them.  My love of stories took root early
in my days of bottles and diapers.  Over the years it has grown, found more places to express itself.  I am willing to risk wasting a little time with
stories, because stories do so many good things.  They settle us down, rivet our attention, make us feel warm, pique our curiosity, give us heroes to follow,
comfort us in times of fear.  They make the whole process interesting.  And as I said before, I like it when it is interesting.
 6.  I hope to be surprised by joy
 Surprised, you say?  Well, yes, surprised by joy, just like the title of that old William Wordsworth poem, since joy is in short supply in counselling. 
So many of the people who finally resort to counselling, having waited until they could not stand it one minute more, have lost their joy, or have tucked
it away under their sorrow, or left it at home, not expecting to need it for that hour.  So when joy—however fleeting--joins us in the office, bursting
forth in the news of triumphs, seeping out from the clutter of untidy memories, it is a welcome guest, a heralded celebrity.  In the face of disappointment,
and depression, and illness I am so often surprised by joy.  May I never get over being surprised!

Thursday, November 23, 2006


I might never have had a blog if they hadn’t started calling me The Hope Lady.  As far as I knew, blogs were for teen-agers and politicians on the campaign trail.  Besides, I’ve never been a journal keeper. 


My journaling history is a saga of failure, several journals begun, none growing larger than three entries before abandonment.  I had the idea that a journal ought to contain personal secrets and could not bear the thought of my secrets from any particular day being discovered.  There is safety in knowing you can change your secrets, and you can change them, so long as you haven’t put them in writing.   What’s more, I never could get very interested in writing anything that wasn’t going to be read by anyone. 


The Hope lady is a title others gave to me, not one I would have chosen for myself.  I am definitely no Mother Theresa.  But when you work for a centre for hope studies, and you talk about hope day after day, year after year, to people who may, or may not be able to remember your name, some of them are bound to refer to you as The Hope Lady.  Some days it feels like a good fit.  Other days, when the world is violent and the news is discouraging, and the drinking water has turned to acid rain and the bird feeder swarms with noisy magpies, and the computer has frozen and the kitchen tap is dripping, and the stock market is sliding while the only stock we ever sold is rising, and my favourite clients are suicidal and some professional journal editor has rejected the writing that kept me awake for six days—well—those are the days when it seems that there are actually two of us, The Hope Lady and The Real Me. 


The Real Me howls and wrings her hands.  She blames the politicians and pollutes the water.  She angrily turns off the radio and unplugs the computer because you can’t always turn it off when it’s frozen.  She curses the forces that shape the stock market and vows never again to buy birdseed.  She says something rude to the plumber’s receptionist and promises to rip up the editor’s comments.  But that will have to wait until the computer starts working again, because she has not printed them yet.  The Real Me is not the person who should receive a telephone solicitation from a charity, or a request to volunteer.  She is not the one who should be summoned to comfort the suicidal clients.  The task of being a good person on a bad day is delegated in full to The Hope Lady. 


The Hope Lady is no Mother Theresa, but she can do some surprising things.  She can write a little, and has wiped out 53 years of unsuccessful journaling with a blog faithfully kept for eleven weeks.  She feels no pressure to reveal secrets because it is a public journal, and no pressure to make it perfect because she already knows it will have few readers.  Nevertheless, she is purposeful in its writing, because somebody just might read it.  Grounded firmly in the world of The Real Me, she sets out to notice what The Hope Lady ought to notice, to give voice to the things The Hope Lady ought to write.  Surprisingly, her writing has received the stamp of approval from The Real Me.


And what has The Hope Lady noticed in the past eleven weeks?  The joy of a blind woman who can read the newspaper and the triumph of important issues in research; the comb concerts that celebrate racial progress in Selma Alabama and the gripping power of American civil war stories to make us work for peace; the pheasant at the bird feeder, feasting on the grain the magpies have spilled; the young people who learned to control their behavior, grew up nicely, shared their food with hungry strangers, interrupted their rushing journeys to help people in need; the old people, remembered with love and wonder; the cat getting a bird’s eye view from atop the piano; the proud accordion player coming out of the closet at last; the left wing, public health care supporting Albertans who were so totally welcomed in red-neck Tennessee.  She has written about hope-opotamuses, dogs with a secret past, unexpected roses, long-time half-empty vessels that filled to bursting in only a moment. 


There it is, this imperfect blog; out there in the universe where anybody might accidentally stumble upon it.  It is the foundation of evidence for hope that keeps the two of us on track on the worst of days.  It is the old chest we route in when we need to find hope.  It is the weight of reassurance that steadies our anchor when The Hope Lady and The Real Me venture into the world inhabited by suicidal clients. 


What would The Hope Lady do that The Real Me wouldn’t?  Even on the worst days she would look around to see if she could notice any hope.  And if she could summon the words to describe what she found, she would record it in a blog.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


I was starved when they found me and missing one eye

My features encrusted, a canine mud pie

So they christened me “Pirate’ and fenced their front yard

With wire and picket they thought would be hard

To escape, but it isn’t.  I crawl underneath

I engineer gaps with my paws and my teeth


If I could tell stories I’d keep them enthralled

With the places I’ve lived and the names I’ve been called

They sooth me with petting, they ply me with bones

They coddle me more than most kings on their thrones

I’m a paradogs daily, intending to stay

While incessantly plotting a fast get-away.

Monday, November 20, 2006


I am thinking of two Bills who have been important to me.  Bill Beach was the minister at Mill Woods united Church when it was chartered.  He taught us how to set up a church, how to form a board, how to make a Sunday school, how to build a building.   The other is Bill Tymchuk.  He hired me into my first professional position, set an example for a job ought to be done, showed me that a gracious retirement is possible, came out to cheer for my accomplishments at every opportunity.  Now both Bills have Alzheimer Disease.  Their wives, ever their best helpers, now take the lead wherever they go.  But still my Bills are setting an example.  Bill Beach, a golfer from way back,  brings is putting machine to the Alzheimer forum, so that other patients and their families can see how they might continue to pursue a former passion.  And Bill Tymchuk calls me on the days when he is well saying: Ï thought I would call on a day when I can remember you. “


Knowing these two men, how can I think of Alzheimer Disease, and not be hopeful at the same time?

Thursday, November 16, 2006


From the Dixie Chicks lyrics: "Am I The Only One (Whose Ever Felt This Way)"


There Is No Good Reason

I Should Have To Be So Alone””


I wanted to get tickets the moment I heard that the Dixie Chicks were coming to Rexall Place.  I was a little sorry about the venue.  This over-sized hockey rink is not exactly a citadel of acoustic perfection.  But Neil Diamond sang for me there, and his music kept me on my feet cheering through most of the second half.  And when Sarah McLaughlin sang for me in that place, it took twenty-four hours for me to emerge from the dreamy pleasure of her mellow sound.  A Dixie Chicks concert seemed like just the place where I would want to spend $120.  In my mind’s imagination I heard three beautiful voices entwined in soft feminine harmonies, lightly dancing among shades of violin and banjo.  I heard the sweet words that bring me to tears, the stories about lost love and little girls who fall for doomed soldiers. 


Our $120 put us up in the nosebleed section, a healthy climb, not for the faint of heart.  But then, though we were not the oldest people present, the crowd was much younger than we had expected.  We had been in our seats not more than a few moments when the aisles began to fill with strapping young men carrying trays of beer.  Within half an hour those same aisles vibrated with the descent of the hoards who now needed the washroom. 


Amid the action, three women came out on stage, exchanging instruments during the applause.  A noise roughly equivalent to the roar of an earthquake filled the place.  Amid the din the vague shapes of familiar songs reached out to claim the ear, then receded in the chaos.  Words and instruments disappeared entirely in the roar of the back-up band and the buzz of the sound system.  Deaf from the pounding of the music, I had no idea what they said between the songs when the applause died down. 


Bombardment is the word that seems to describe the experience.  At some point we made a conscious decision to avoid the danger of being trampled by the beer carriers and bathroom seekers on the steps, even though it meant suffering through to the end.  Having attended an event with $12,000 other people I felt curiously alone.  On the way out I heard a young girl say she had cried during the sad song about the soldier.  The newspaper said the Dixie Chicks were a real crowd pleaser.  After all, they mentioned the Oilers and everybody cheered.  I recalled their mentioning the Oilers, but I can’t remember if I cheered.


By mid-afternoon the next day, with my hearing partially restored, and the waste of $120 partially forgiven, I played my old CDs.  There they were, those harmonious voices, those clear-as-a-bell instruments.  They were whole.  They were magnificent.  They were just as wonderful as I remembered.  They were not gone forever. 


I have learned a lesson about wanting to have it all.  My Dixie Chicks are back in my ears now, and I’ll never try to see them in concert again, not even if they come to the Winspeare.  Well, maybe if they come to the Winspeare.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


I post this for those of you who ask for it after hearing it at my presentations.  If you are the unacknowledged author of tis delightful piece, please step forward and you will be acknowledged.  


IF YOU CAN.......

(author unknown)


If you can start the day without caffeine,


If you can get going without pep pills,


If you can always be cheerful,

ignoring aches and pains,


If you can resist complaining and

boring people with your troubles,


If you can eat the same food every

day and be grateful for it,


If you can understand when your loved

ones are too busy to give you any time,


If you can overlook it when those you love

take it out on you when, through no fault

of yours, something goes wrong,


If you can take criticism and

blame without resentment,


If you can ignore a friend's limited

education and never correct him,


If you can resist treating a rich friend

better than a poor friend,


If you can face the world

without lies and deceit,


If you can conquer tension

without medical help,


If you can relax without liquor,


If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,


Then You Are Probably the Family Dog!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


And here comes Lenora, early to work on this snowy morning when the whole world is grinding at a snail’s pace and those who make it to work are shiveringly gritting their teeth.  She is smiling, this humble seamstress, this woman with the sewing machine that always used to jam.  It seems that her old machine has somehow been infused with a touch of magic.  For now she has made a tiny curtain, the first she ever made by following all the instructions, the first she ever lined.  This delightful creation is a dollhouse curtain, a forerunner of curtains to come.  Soon her living room window will no longer fight alone against the winter’s chill.  The winter will not daunt Lenora.  A woman who can make a little curtain can also make a big one. 

Monday, November 13, 2006


When I was thirteen, looking for any excuse not to admit that I could play the accordion, looking for any piece of information that could help me understand how to attract the attention of boys, Ross Watson told me accordion playing was simply not done by people under fifty.  So I only played for others, my parents when they begged, the Power Morning Crew on Power92when my little daughter woke me one morning to say she had promised them I would play and they would be calling right away. 


How fine it is, now that I am over fifty, to hold my head high and play the accordion to please myself. 

Saturday, November 11, 2006


I’ve just received some shocking news.   
It’s about Winnipeg, a city I have never visited and yet, have known well—at least one part of it.   
 It’s about the corner of Portage and Main, that famed intersection immortalized in song and joke, that windiest of all corners where pedestrians cringe
and hunker against the bitter driving wind.  How long I have imagined them, shivering as they wait for the light.  How often have I, shivering at an Edmonton
crossing, thanked the stars that I do not live in Winnipeg, where I would have to huddle at Portage and Main?   
 The news has cut me to the quick.  For I have received, from a trustworthy source, information about that famed corner.  It is apparently a huge wide
much too wide for a safe pedestrian crossing.  And so the crossing is done underground.  Pedestrians, aided by escalators, ride down in comfort and cross
safely out of the wind.   
 What does this suggest about all the other assumptions that guide my view of the world?  

Friday, November 10, 2006


You told us he would grow up though he started very late.

You said that it might be a while, perhaps at twenty-eight

Your words enlivened hope that this could somehow come to be.

But you were wrong!  It’s happening now, and he’s just twenty-three.