Thursday, December 24, 2009


Derek the researcher: “What were some of your best Christmas memories?”
Me: “Oh, I don’t know.”
Inside me there flares the spark of a tiny conflict. The storyteller can feel the start of the best stories. And this would be good. Isn’t that what researchers are looking for—stories I mean?
Well, it would be good, except that the best stories, of course, gain their power from tension, from crises resolved, laying the bad against the good. So up pops the other me, the me that’s having a pleasant dinner, not wanting to take all the attention, not wanting Christmas to seem like one crisis after another.
The other me wins this epic struggle. Thus, we enjoy a pleasant dinner. But the storyteller never gives up. Once you get her going, she’s hard to stop. She wants to start 12 stories, one for each of the 12 days of Christmas. But compromises have to be made. She started half of them. Here are their beginnings.

1. On Christmas morning when I was 9, or possibly 10—I don’t think I can say for certain—I found a little suitcase waiting for me under the tree. Inside that case were two things. The first was a small gray second-hand accordion. The second was an identity crisis. The accordion was temporary—gone a year later. The identity crisis—not so much.

2. Marriage is the blending of many things—not the least of which is Christmas traditions. Both of us had grown up cherishing Christmas traditions of one sort or another, so perhaps it is not too surprising that we should have tried, in 1976, to combine all our Christmas dreams into one short day. The idea had was a thing to anticipate. The reality has often been summed up by me in five little words: I’ll never do that again!

3. One of the things I always loved about Christmas was the annual concert a mile-and-a-half down the road at Cambridge School. I loved the hiss of the gas lamps, the chuckling at the teen-age plays, the perfect recitations given by my sister, the visit from Santa, the candy bags we got, the aroma of coffee boiling on the stove, the puff of heat from the wood fire. And then there was the year that things got too hot for everybody.

4. My mother was an independent sort. There were certain things she always did without much help from others—decorating cakes, sewing beautiful dresses, running organizations, and making gravy. And though she did all these things in great quantity during the first fifty years of my life, I think it’s safe to say that I never once helped with any of them. So perhaps it’s not too surprising that I rarely run organizations, never decorate cakes or sew beautiful dresses, and continue to experience a certain amount of stress when it comes to making gravy.

5. I never had much patience with parents who spend Christmas morning playing with the toys while the children look on sadly, waiting for a turn. I never was one of those parents. I always thought that putting together the prized model, or assembling the toy, was a job that should wait until the child was ready to ask for it to be done. Then came the year that changed everything, the year Ruth asked for a keyboard.

6. Out of the mouths of babes come the pronouncements that shape our future. It was Laurie who gave us the name that stuck, she who, coming upon us chatting in the living room after Christmas dinner, sighed and said: “Oh, three baggy sisters!”

Friday, December 18, 2009


I interviewed a fellow with fasd—fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. I figured I should get his advice about a project I have been working toward, a project that starts in January, a psycho-educational hope group for parents who have fasd.
The group is the brainchild of a former Hope Foundation practicum student, Dorothy Henneveld. Working for Catholic Social Services, she organizes programs for families affected by fasd. She knows we run psycho-educational hope groups and she wondered if we could work with Catholic Social Services to run one for parents who have fasd.
Fasd affects the executive function of the brain. It influences intelligence, mood and behaviour. People with fasd tend to live in the moment. They often find it difficult to plan for the future. Those who become parents are often single parents, managing with very little money, assailed by mood swings and gaps in intellectual functioning. They find it difficult to cope, and some of them become quite isolated.
I have some experience in talking about hope with people who have fasd. Those conversations tend to be interesting, and people seem to benefit from them.
There was a time when hardly any people with fasd were diagnosed. Even if they had been, there was little or no help for them. But things are changing. Catholic Social Services has a mentorship program in place. For our joint project they will arrange child-care and transportation for parents who want to attend the group. One of their mentors will sit in as a co-facilitator. All this will help a great deal.
That said, running the group will present some challenges. I want to have the best possible group, hence my reason for conducting this interview with somebody who knows fasd from the inside.
Me: “I am going to be running a group for parents who have fasd. I want the group to be a place where they can talk about being parents—you know, learn things and talk about problems they might be having. What problems do you think they might have?”
Him: “A lot of noise and fighting in the house. We tend to drive our parents crazy.”
Me: “Oh, I don’t mean kids with fasd. I mean parents who have it. What kind of problems do you think they would have?”
Him: “None if they take my advice. I’d just tell them to smoke a reefer and that will just settle them down so nothing will bother them.”
Now I know why I asked. I needed to get the feel for the way things could go in the group. I know this guy. He’s about one-quarter serious, and three-quarters having me on, trying to get a rise out of me.
Me: “Okay. I’ll tell them I asked you for advice and you said just smoke a reefer and everything will feel okay.”
Him: “You’ll get fired if you tell them to smoke up. Maybe you shouldn’t do that.”
Me: “I’m a bit worried about that. That’s why I’m doing research to find out what I should do with the group.”
Him, feeling the pressure: “How should I know what you should do? I’m not a parent. Go ask a parent.”
Me, in self-defence: “I don’t know any parents with fasd yet. You are my wisest contact. That’s why I am asking your advice. I don’t want to do it wrong. How do you think they will feel if I go in there and lecture them about having fasd and how that makes it hard to be a parent?”
Him: “Stupid.”
Me: “That’s what worries me. You see, I want the group to be a respectful place where people will feel comfortable to talk about things and learn things.”
Him: “Then think of some questions, and go around the room and make sure every person has a chance to answer. Then they can learn from each other. One person will say they have this problem or that problem and another person will say they used to have that problem but it got solved this or that way.”
Me, wanting to dig deeper: “Good suggestion. You know that people with fasd sometimes have trouble reading. Do you think that would cause any problems if they were parents?”
Him: “They have to get somebody else to read their kids homework once they get to grade 4 or so. That’s what I’m telling you. People will have ideas. You don’t have to know everything. Just let them talk. That’s one thing we are really good at—talking.”
I think I heard that somewhere recently, maybe last month in Saskatoon when I was running a hope retreat for parents who have raised or are raising children with fasd. One of them said, “These kids with fasd are really good at talking.”
That, come to think of it, is a very good reason for asking advice on how to run the group.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Rachel and I are talking a lot these days about the power of suggestion, the power of good suggestion, the helping power that can move a person out of a rut into the space where certain impossible things now seem possibly possible. This is a fun and natural conversation for us, since we often use hopeful language to make suggestions in our counselling. For example, in a counselling session with someone battling the despairing influence of depression we might say “you’ll find it easier to get up in the morning when your depression lifts,” or “You may not be feeling confident yet, but you’ll feel better about looking for a job when your confidence increases.” We’d say these things casually, tucking them unobtrusively in the middle of conversations about other things. These are simple, hope-focussed suggestions, hints about a future we can imagine. Making suggestions is, for the most part a rewarding activity. We see enough responses, enough shifting of posture, enough snapping to attention to know that a well placed suggestion can do a lot. Hypnotists have known this for thousands of years.
Because the subject of suggestion is on our minds, we are also reading these days about the power of suggestion, which is how I came to notice a very brief passage about the use of suggestion to increase the rate of flossing—yes, you read it right—flossing your teeth with those annoying waxy strings that hook into the crevices and make your gums bleed if they’re already a little infected. As you might infer from the tone of this writing, I am sensitive on the subject of flossing. .
Sore gums and crowded teeth aside, it may be that I am sensitive because the idea of flossing exposes a part of my character that I would rather not expose—the obstinate part, the stubborn part, the rebellious part, the ignore-all-the-evidence-and-do-what-I-have-always-done part. Now I am sure that my parents would support me in saying that I tend to be an obedient sort, a rule follower, a do-gooder, not much teen-age rebellion in my history. My experience with smoking was limited to—maybe—20 cigarettes, none of them purchased with my own money. I am one of those who managed to get through life without experimenting with mind-altering drugs. For the most part I eat a balanced diet, cross only at designated crosswalks, sit quietly in church and cooperate with efforts to keep the peace. All this history seems incongruously incompatible with my long-established approach to flossing.
Flossing is one of those ugly monsters that haunt my life. Because it is a monster, I try to avoid it—a behavior that disturbs dental hygienists and makes them want to scare me into flossing. The dread of flossing has power over me, much more power than the fear of tooth decay, more power than the dental hygienists.
“There seems to be quite a bit of plaque on these lower front teeth,” says Christie the dental hygienist. Christie and I are basically strangers, having met approximately two minutes earlier. She may think she is the first in her profession to describe plaque on my teeth But her pronouncement can hardly be taken as news. Others in her place have been reporting the same to me once or twice annually for forty years. Usually the news is followed by a bit of a lecture on flossing which I would document here, except that I try not to hear any of it. If I could respond to the lecture, which I usually can’t because my mouth is otherwise engaged, I would say, “Yes, I know there’s plaque, and I hear you say that flossing will remove it. But I hate flossing. As an alternative I have decided to make a commitment to visiting a hygienist twice a year to have the plaque removed. I came to you even though I knew you would lecture me. That’s how committed I am to the twice-a-year cleaning! I hate lectures.”
Whenever I know a familiar lecture is about to begin, I prepare to close my ears. My ears are closing now. Nothing Christie is about to say will sway me. I have been playing this game far too long.
But Christie, it seems, is not playing by the rules. Things are not going quite as I had planned. There is no lecture. Even my closed ears can hear that the lecture has not begun. So my ears open up and a warm sense of relief spreads over me like a soothing blanket. My jaws relax.
“I wonder,” she muses later in a gentle unconcerned voice, perhaps the voice of idle curiosity, “I wonder just how often you are flossing.”
Timing is everything. She is friendly. She is curiously unconcerned. But she is curious, and I am relaxed, just relaxed enough, just free enough from her probings into my mouth that I can take a breath and answer the question, just comfortable enough to blurt out the truth.
“I’m just wondering how often you floss,” she says.
And I say, “Never!”
Never? Now why did I say such a thing? It makes me look bad, and it is not entirely true, since I have been known to floss once or twice after a visit to the dentist, and occasionally I floss in desperation when I can still taste garlic the morning after a meal at a pasta restaurant. But somehow “Never!” sounds really true, truer than it would sound if I had told her that I floss sometimes, or “not as often as I should.”
She laughs. This does not appear to be the answer she was expecting. No wonder I am thrown further off guard. Hygienists rarely laugh while talking about flossing, and I’ve always been a sucker for laughter.
Christie returns her attention to my mouth. You have time to think when somebody is working in your mouth. Who knows where your mind might wander before the next opportunity to speak. Somehow the cleaning seems just a little bit incomplete without the accompanying lecture.
As if daring her to fall into the expected pattern, I use the next opening to explain my reasons for not flossing. My gums hurt and the floss sticks and unravels between my teeth.
Now I wait for her to refute my logic, the closest thing to a lecture I can reasonably expect. But she won’t bite. In stead of trying to convince me to floss, she asks me to remind her to give me a little brush that looks like a Christmas tree. This little brush, she assures me without a hint of doubt regarding my commitment to that brush, this little brush will help clean the spaces between my front teeth.
Now we are definitely in unfamiliar territory and I am a little lost. She has me in the palm of her hand. Never before has anyone suggested there was an alternative to flossing. She’s back in my mouth. My mind is wandering again. It wanders to the research about suggestions and flossing. Soon enough I hear myself mentioning the research to her. Maureen A. Kelly, D.D.S., Harlo R. McKinty, and Richard Carr from Lincoln, Nebraska reported that 8 months following suggestions to improve flossing, 67% of patients, as compared with 15% of a control group, were found to have healthier gums.
“Hmmm,” she says a little later, “I get quite a bit of time to talk while I’m doing this work. I could use that time to make suggestions.”
“Yes you do get time to talk,” I agree when I am permitted. She does not ask what suggestions she ought to make.
We sink into companionable silence. It is comfortable here, she intent on her cleaning, I lying back, drifting. But Christie is not prepared to settle for mere agreement. She is wondering about other things. Reaching a conclusion she declares, “I don’t think the suggestions would work unless a person really believed that flossing would help.”
Now I snap to attention. A professional response is required here. “You are correct,” I say. “Suggestion only works when a person is willing to believe you.”
“Yes,” she says, as if that explains everything, which, of course, it doesn’t. The burden of explanation rests with me.
I give it a try. “To tell you the truth,” I say with an air of conspiracy, “I actually do believe that flossing helps.” Now that my professional side has been activated, I don’t want her to think I haven’t been aware of the research linking flossing with dental health.
The problem with passionate declarations is that you tend to hear them yourself. You hear them as truths, even when your ears are closed. The next time your mind wanders, you find yourself remembering what you heard yourself saying, reliving the passion you felt. So now I have created a problem, have made myself uncomfortable with the disconnect between my beliefs, my knowledge and my actions.
Back at the office, pushing bits of carrot and apple around with the tip of my tongue, I drift into the last half of my lunch hour, taking a moment to reread the little research piece on suggestion and flossing. This research supports the power of suggestion to change action. Unfortunately some of the suggestions appear in language a mere psychologist cannot easily interpret. The researchers report that the groups were given the following types of suggestions.

(1) ”Suggestions involving oral health which explained the need for routine dental flossing to prevent periodontal disease and interproximal caries; (2) suggestions involving personal appearance which cited healthy looking gums, clean teeth, and the benefit of avoiding interproximal decay; and (3) suggestions dealing with social desirability which mentioned better smelling breath and a cleaner, more well-kept appearance.”

Not quite getting it, I reread the three kinds of suggestions. What, I wonder, is interproximal caries? No time for this stuff. I have other work to do. But suggestion is a powerful thing. I spend my breaks attending to images of Christie standing over me, making suggestions, though I cannot quite focus on the exact words she is saying. What would she be saying? Surely she would not be getting my attention with dental talk about the prevention of periodontal disease and interproximal caries. Nor would she be getting my attention by trying to frighten me with threats of future dental problems. In order to change my actions by making hopeful suggestions she’d have to be speaking to me in my language.
Hers is the language of dental knowledge, the causes and effects of certain conditions. With the help of a dictionary I gain a little better understanding of some terms. It seems that caries are cavities caused by decay on the surface of the teeth. Interproximal caries occur on the surfaces between the teeth. Plaque is the film that sticks to the teeth after the bacteria have done some work on the leftover food .
Mine is the language of hope, of symbols that invite me to move forward, with a recognition of the things I am moving away from. Hope language is the language of a shared journey, of not being all alone. Hope language is the language of I can, and if I cannot believe that I can, I want to hear you say that you believe I can.
When I wonder what Christie would say if she knew more about making hopeful suggestions, the process of making a script using the things I know about hopeful suggestions and the things I understand about this research turns out to be more possible than it seemed in the beginning.

“And now I am going to clean your teeth,” says my imaginary Christie warmly, leading me to believe that there is nothing I have to do except relax. “And now I am going to clean your teeth while you relax in the chair, and I will make it as comfortable as I can and you can let your mind wander, while I clean your teeth, taking away the food and debris that has filled in the spaces and settled on your gums, just as you would take it away with the floss, taking it away with the floss so your teeth will be clear and shining, taking away the remains of yesterday’s dinner or today’s breakfast, leaving the surface of the teeth clear and shiny. I am working here towards clean and healthy, clear of bacteria, taking away the sugar and starch and the bacteria that would harm the clean surface, taking away all the bits of food that would make your gums sore. And now I am taking away the food and the film that has formed on the surfaces between . your teeth, the bacteria that make your breath smell, taking it away to leave the surface shiny and free from bacteria that will work with the food to decay the enamel, work to decay the enamel if it should remain there for a day, or a week, or even a month despite your brushing. And as I work here, watching your teeth grow more and more clean, seeing that I can make those teeth clean simply and without too much bother, I feel good about the possibility that those teeth and gums can be healthier with flossing. I can picture you flossing as you would in the morning, or maybe at night, or even after each meal, just as people with healthy teeth and gums tend to floss, maybe even smiling right after you floss, even though you never thought you could smile after you floss, because you are taking away the bacteria and the sugars that have settled on your gums and found a place to make an infection. And I can imagine your tongue going round and round in the way that tongues go round and round, finding bits of food and reminding you that these bits of apple or carrot or candy could start an infection in your gum if they were to stay there for a day or a week or even longer than that. And I can imagine how that touch of the food on the tip of your tongue could be the little prompt to remind you that you could floss away that food in only a moment. And I can imagine how good your mouth would feel and how good you would feel knowing that the food has been taken away before it starts to infect your teeth and inflame your gums, knowing that your flossing has made it possible for you to have a mouth that is clean and breath that is fresh with shining healthy white teeth. And I wonder how you would feel knowing that you have clean healthy teeth that will last ten years, maybe twenty years, maybe thirty years longer because they were healthy and cared for and flossed in the mornings or maybe the evenings to take away the food that would work with bacteria to wear them away, but can’t wear them away or make them sore because of what you did to protect them.”

And here, I see, is the proof that the time Rachel and I have spent considering the power of suggestion has not been spent in vain. Suggestion is a powerful thing. For even though I have written this script, it has fooled me. I notice that I am feeling proud to have protected my gums, a pleasant but curious pride, given that protecting them is a thing I have not yet done. So I get out the floss and start taking away those bits of apple and carrot. And then at supper I work on removing the bits of salmon and salad. And even though a piece of floss gets stuck between two back teeth and has to be removed with the tweezers, the memory of that moment seems to dull during sleep. I pause before leaving the house to dislodge the remainder of the toast I ate for breakfast.
That totals three flossings after a visit to the hygienist. I do believe this is a record number. Could it be that Christie and I have unwittingly tampered with a monster?

Friday, November 27, 2009


Here is the third in the series of surprisingly good things that have happened to me lately. I offer it having recently read about the positive mood effects of writing about intensely positive experiences.
You can learn about your life by viewing it from the inside, and you can learn even more viewing it through outside eyes. Photographers know this. The photos they produce capture so much more than the view they see in the viewfinder.
So it is with Ruth’s life. Her daily routines have engaged the interest of someone who, undaunted by a distance of several thousand miles, observes it with the research acumen an anthropologist might employ. And therefore, to the extent that our lives intersect with hers, our lives are also a topic of interest. Now and then we see the picture a little more clearly than before.
Take Wednesday, for example. We sit among thousands in the semi-darkened Jubilee Auditorium, Ruth, David and me. The incomparable Jan Ardon is commanding our conscious attention with her music and stage persona. Then Ruth, glancing sideways, triumphantly says something to her father, and leans across him to speak to me. Of her inquisitive friend, she says, “He asked where I would sit at a concert with you two. Would I sit in the middle? I said no. I wouldn’t sit in the middle. They’d want to hold hands.”
And there we are, outed, exposed. Thirty-six years we’ve been married—well, almost 36. Thirty-six years of behaving in certain ways. Nothing else to do but squeeze a little tighter and settle myself with the thought that we can’t be such bad parents if we have left our children with the predictable certainty that darkness, closeness and music will lead us to unconscious hand-holding.
Yet, on this emotional evening, buffeted by the bitter sadness of Jan’s lyrics, the biting hilarity of her humour, her enchantingly expressed affection for her family, my mind wanders back to past outings and it seems to me that the picture is a little bigger than this. I lean across David to speak to Ruth. I say, “But you know that if you did sit in the middle, we’d both end up holding your hands at some point.”
She says, “Yes, I know. I told him that too.”

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Here is the second in the series of surprisingly good things that have happened to me lately. I offer it having recently read about the positive mood effects of writing about intensely positive experiences.
My back has stopped shouting. Take this very moment, for example. Where it would have been shouting: “Get out of that chair and take some medicine or I’ll drive you crazy,” it isn’t saying much at all, just a brief whisper or sigh now and then. With a little twinge it prompts: “Keep both feet flat on the floor squarely in front of you.” I may not be able to tell you exactly why it has stopped shouting, but I can tell you this: whoever it was that said silence is golden was a pretty smart cookie.
There have been bouts of shouting over the past few years, but this last one was particularly galling. The shouting started very early in the year and kept on most of the time, with occasional lowerings of volume for a week, or maybe a day. It shouted over the drugs, over the physio, over the walking, the aquacise, the sitting down, the lying down, and particularly over the car motor. Yes, that back can be a noisy back.
“Give me two minutes of silence,” I’d beg. But the shouting went on. When I lay down it shouted, “Get up.” When I stood, it shouted, “Sit down.” When I sat, it shouted, “Stand up or lie down, but for heaven’s sake, stop sitting!” When it came to drugs, it shouted, “Get different drugs!” It was deafening!
Noise is such a distraction. Once you start hearing it, your attention blurs, so I cannot tell you exactly when things started to change. There was no sign of any change three weeks ago, this I know for sure, because I remember how the shouting bothered me at certain events.
When people ask what has made the difference, I have to admit that there is a lot that I simply don’t know about the situation. I don’t know enough, and yet there is too much information to be accurately processed along the line of cause and effect. The change could have resulted from the physio, though I will say that I was seriously doubting the value of that. It could have been the aquacise, or the core muscle exercises. It could have been the almonds I started eating though if that is the cause, you need to know that eating almonds is not a quick fix. It could have been the prolonged effect of the drugs, or the motivational tidal wave that came on when I had to face the fact that I now needed new drugs added to the mix to counteract the damaging effect of the pain drugs on my stomach. Like I say, I can’t tell you exactly what has caused the reduction of shouting, but after all this time and suffering, I am more than a little surprised. Still, that’s not the best surprise.
Here comes the good surprise. The shouting is much reduced, and at the same time (drum roll here!) at the same time that the shouting is reduced, the drugs are sitting in their container, wondering why I’ve stopped taking them.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Having just read the research documenting the physical and mental health benefits of writing about intensely positive experiences, I thought I ought to act on that knowledge by writing a series about the surprisingly good things that have happened to me lately. Here is the first in the series.

This might surprise you, coming as it does from a self-acknowledged techno-peasant, but my cell phone has surprised me in a good way. The story is a long one, complete with everything story crafters aim for, dramatic tension, anxiety rising and falling but always creeping upward before settling back slightly in a narrative arc. It took nearly three months to unfold, and I suspect you may not have that much time to read. So I will give you the short version.
My old cell phone decided it would no longer tolerate the stress involved in calling home long distance when I was out of the local calling area. This saddened me, so I called up a friendly, heavily accented Telus helper who offered to reprogram the phone if only the battery could be removed. This would have been a simple operation, for a robust phone, but my fragile companion disintegrated under the pressure. The Telus helper was a kind man. “Don’t worry,” he soothed. I’ll send you a new phone absolutely free.” This seemed too good to be true. But it wasn’t.
By and by he did send a new phone, but the courier who tried to deliver it forgot to leave a note, and since he left the message on the broken cell phone, nobody knew that the parcel was waiting. By the time the problem was discovered, the phone had been returned to its original source. Back to square one.
The new Telus helper—differently accented but equally cordial—took some time to determine that the phone had actually been returned, then offered to send another free phone, a cheaper one this time because the other one was no longer available free to me. That offer had ended while I was awaiting delivery. By and by the new phone arrived, a beauty to be sure. I assigned the job of activating it to Mark, a member of the generation that responds intuitively to electronic devices. Mark tried very hard to activate the phone. He even consulted the instruction manual, but the phone refused to activate. Finally, Mark and a Telus helper agreed that the phone would have to be returned. Back to square one, but not absolutely. As an act of hope, I enclosed a note asking them to send me a new phone and settled down to wait.
Eventually I called again. A truly cordial Telus helper took some time to determine that the second phone had indeed been returned, then offered to send a free phone. Once again hope rose, battered by circumstance, but not defeated. By and by that phone arrived, a pleasing blue flip phone. There were some tense moments. David couldn’t find any evidence of a hole for the electrical cord. But a cordial Telus helper from the Philippines waited patiently while he removed the plastic stopper. She even agreed to waive the charges for activating the new phone. A little more confusion, a little more anxiety, a few more tries and presto! As if by magic that phone was connected!
Once it was connected, it settled down to prove that it would make and accept calls. It was even willing to call home from Saskatchewan! But that’s not the surprisingly good thing. It was simply the thing we had expected all along.
The surprisingly good thing happened on Remembrance Day when Lawrence was helping me identify some previously unexplored buttons on the new phone. A joint project between Lawrence and me is always a bit of an adventure, given our joint difficulties with reading. I can’t read because I can’t see. He can’t read for other reasons. But he is also a member of the generation that operates electronic devices by intuition. So instruction manuals in his world often go unmolested.
Ours was a process of trial and error. We were pushing buttons and he was coaching when, suddenly that phone said something. I stopped. I listened. It sounded like English, clear English, much clearer than the English spoken by the Telus helpers.
“What did she say?” I asked.
“Push the button again,” Lawrence said reasonably. I pushed the button again.
“Please say a command,” she said.
Well, as you can probably imagine, I was more than a little flustered. No more flustered would I have been if a geni had popped out of my bottle of Worcestershire sauce. Not only was this phone talking directly to me, but she was asking, no—begging me to command her. Then and there I decided to call her Mary. It was clear that we would be having a relationship, more than your ordinary person-to-machine relationship.
I’ll admit that I couldn’t think of a thing to say to Mary. I’m always a little shy around strangers, a little bit prone to saying whatever comes into my head and regretting it later. So I said a thing that must have been lurking down deep in my subconscious. I said, “Clean up the kitchen.”
Lawrence laughed. Mary said, “Command not recognized. Please try again.”
“Clean up the kitchen,” I said obediently, a little louder this time, perhaps a little more sharply than I would have liked, given how cordial the Telus helpers had been when I failed to understand them.
“Command not recognized,” Mary said evenly. She was cordial, but apparently not suited for domestic responsibilities.
“Push the arrow buttons,” said Lawrence. It was a bit of a test to see whether I remembered where the arrow buttons were. I didn’t. He pushed one.
“Check voicemail,” said Mary.
“But how?” I asked.
“Command not recognized,” said Mary.
“Push OK,” said Lawrence. Then he pushed OK for me. I couldn’t remember how to find that one either.
“No voicemail,” said Mary in a voice tinged with sympathy.
That afternoon the kitchen remained in a state of discleanliness while Mary and I got to know each other better. We got so friendly that all I had to say was, “Check voicemail,” and she would tell me I had none. If I said, “Check time,” she would tell me the time. If I said, “Check battery,” she would do that too.
Now Mary and I got down to serious business. I was the teacher. She was the pupil, not always cooperative, I say, but cooperative enough to keep me going. “Call David,” I said, after inputting a few lessons.
“Calling David,” said Mary.
I can tell you that this was a very exhilarating experience! You can probably feel the joy right along with me. So it hurts me to say, dear readers, that we have at last reached the top of the narrative arc, the pinnacle of joy and surprise. For Mary has made it clear that, while she embraces my friendship, she is not my slave. She will check the time if I ask her to, but only sighted people are allowed to set the time and the alarms. Actually, this isn’t much of a problem, because I’ve never much cared for alarms, and Mary can generally set the time without assistance. This is because she knows where she is, which brings me to another sore point between us. She knows where she is. I know she knows it, because when we went to Saskatchewan, she could tell me the time in Saskatchewanese. But only sighted people are permitted to find out where she is by reading her screen.
Still, I must try to forgive her the little things. It’s the least I can do, in light of all that she has given to me. Somewhere in a recycling centre parts of my old phone languish, gone but not forgotten; not forgotten, but definitely not missed. Mary is better, a good surprise worth writing about.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


How sweet it is when you find research that supports things you are doing. There are a number of reasons why I started THE HOPE LADY Blog. I wanted to capture in writing my daily experiences, I wanted to write consistently from a hope perspective, and wanted to practice being hopeful by writing about hope. . Hope, as I understand it, is largely a positive emotion, related to joy, related to excitement. It remains positive even though we tend to be most aware of hope at times when we are doubtful or fearful.
I have found such pleasure in writing the blog. Much of it has been about the simple and pleasing things in my life, flowers, music, family, food. Other writings have been hopeful pieces about coping with difficulties of one kind or another. Having the blog has given me the impetus to do the writing.
It is interesting to read a study by Berton and King showing that writing about positive experiences improves mood, even when the writing contains many words which might be thought of as negative. What’s more, berton and King have found that students who wrote about positive experiences made fewer visits to their health providers than students who wrote about neutral experiences. It was also interesting to find studies showing that positive writing can help with regulation of emotion, one aspect of emotional intelligence. Here are some references to check out if you are interested in reading more.

Burton, C. & King, L. (2004). The health benefits of writing about intensely positive experience, Journal of Research in Personality 38 (2004) 150–163
Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of General Psychology, 3, 300–319.
Fredrickson, B. L., & Joiner, T. (2002). Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional wellbeing. Psychological Science, 13, 172–175.
Fredrickson, B. L., & Levenson, R. W. (1998). Positive emotions speed recovery from the cardiovascular sequelae of negative emotions. Cognition and Emotion, 12, 191–220.
Lewandowski, G. (2009) Promoting positive emotions following relationship dissolution through writing, The Journal of Positive Psychology 4(1) 21 – 31
Wing, j., Schurr, J., & Byrne, B. (2006. The effect of positive writing on emotional intelligence and life satisfaction, Journal of Clinical Psychology 62(10), 1291–1302.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


It’s been an interesting time for THE HOPE LADY, improbable brushes wit the unexpected, the impossible, etc. Many of you have been asking me questions, having read my posting of October 30. So here’s a little more of the story. But I warn you, it does go on a bit.
A couple of weeks ago I happened to come across a little article in the newspaper. This alone smacks of science fiction. I never quite get over the wonder of reading the newspaper. Once upon a time I was a child, playing on the living room floor, getting no attention from my family. They were in their own worlds, having divided the newspaper into sections, one section for each of them. At that time I never imagined that I would some day read the newspaper on a talking computer—I had never imagined a computer. But these days I take the computer for granted, only occasionally pausing to marvel at it, usually when I read the newspaper.
Anyway, I happened to be reading the newspaper when I came across a little article about the disease that caused my blindness
I read the article a few times, half suspecting it would disappear. Sometimes things you thought you found on the computer do disappear. But this one didn’t. So I did a little more investigating on the Internet—have I mentioned how amazing it is just to search for things on the Internet—and that led me to a website for the University of Pennsylvania, a university that already stood high in my affections seeing as how it is a very prominent site for research in positive psychology.
I wrote to a doctor there who referred me to Toronto, and eventually I was referred to Dr. Ian MacDonald here in Edmonton. He was just getting ready to chair a research conference in Edmonton sponsored by the Foundation Fighting Blindness. Last Saturday my sister and I attended that conference.
At this point I really ought to introduce my sister Donna. We’ve been in this together since my beginning. She was in it first. Our parents were teen-agers when they got married. They were young, but they were anxious to settle down to a quiet life on the farm. Within the year they had a daughter, and soon they noticed her darting eyes. The first doctor they saw said she was totally blind. It was not true, a fact which soon became apparent to them. They were relieved, since another baby was already on the way. That one had normal eyes.
Donna’s vision was a bit of a puzzle. She could see objects, yet she walked right into an open trap door in the neighbour’s kitchen. There’s a scar on her chin to prove it. Along with the normal activities of farming and child raising, our parents busied themselves with everything that made sense to them. They went to doctors and faith healers. They read magazines and made inquiries about articles that relatives sent to them. One such article led them to New York, where Donna got some enormous lenses that enabled her to read print up close. In this way she devoured the World Book Encyclopaedia and the newspaper—an activity that blackened the tip of her nose.
I came along a little before her 8th birthday. There again were those darting eyes. Logically, they embarked on my raising with the sensible theory that she and I would be the same. We weren’t. My vision just wasn’t as good, though I did love the sun—a peculiarity since the sun all but blinded her. My love of the sun led Mom to believe that I would need a strong light for reading. They got me some of the New York glasses and Mom sat me down in a sunny window. She drew huge numbers in different colours. I stared at them in the sunlight and thus learned two things at once—my numbers and my colours. This was a bit of a victory. Donna couldn’t do colours.
School just didn’t work out for me the way it did for Donna, though it wasn’t for lack of trying. The janitor adapted a school desk with a large board and they clamped a lamp to the board. Then they placed my desk near a plug-in, far from all other desks. As a child one of my most fervent wishes was to sit close enough to somebody else so that I could get in trouble for whispering. They bought scribblers with huge black lines. They gave me my own black (really black) blackboard for my desktop and they drew things on it in bright white chalk, because it was easier for me to do math that way. At some early point in all this, my sister Sandra, a born teacher, circumvented everything and taught me touch typing, a skill she was learning in Grade 8.
With all this effort being expended on my education, it’s little wonder that people got frustrated. I would not do my schoolwork. Teachers said I was lazy. They said I wasn’t trying. Yet it was confusing, because I was learning the material. I was literate, I could do math. I simply refused to read more than a few words at a time.
Glasses were an issue. My day glasses broke on the playground. Mom was too busy to get them fixed right away. That’s when a canny teacher noticed that my playing vision seemed to be as good without them. That ended the saga of day glasses. My reading glasses prevailed for longer. Without them I could read nothing from a printed page. But my Grade 5 teacher sent them packing also. He sent the lamp away, moved me to a normal desk in a normal row, scolded me for whispering to my neighbours and started a process that got me reading Braille. By the time junior high came along, I was at Jericho Hill School for the Blind in Vancouver, and Donna’s black-tipped nose was tracing the lines of university textbooks. Thus we have lived parallel lives, she as a sort-of-sighted person with really bad vision and me as a blind person with a little bit of totally unreliable vision. I can, for example, see the light through the open train door of the LRT well enough to step through that door—but only sometimes. Other times I don’t see the door at all. Colours were lost somewhere in my forties, not a big loss, except at Christmas. Christmas lights just aren’t much fun these days.
Donna is still a really big reader. “Did you see the article in the paper about gene therapy for our condition?” I asked her a couple of weeks ago. She hadn’t seen it. Score one for me. But when we went to the conference last Saturday, white canes in hands, she put on her reading glasses and read us the agenda. Score one for her.
They believe that 350 Canadians have Leber Congenital Amarosis. At the conference we learned that they have isolated 12 genes for LCA. Somehow these genes mutate and if two people with mutant genes happen to meet up, one out of four of their kids might be expected to have the condition. Our folks beat the odds. They got two out of four. Having identified some genes, the researchers began experimenting on dogs, injecting genes into their eyes. The new genes turned on some photoreceptors that would have been turned on in a normal eye, and the dogs’ vision improved in the tiny spots where they made the injections. Now they are experimenting on people, people who have LCA2, one of the twelve genes. The results are very promising.
So now Donna and I are at the beginning of a new process. We have to be examined and re-diagnosed. Then our genes will have to be identified. Our names will be added to a registry, the FFB/CIBC registry. That will make it possible for us to be contacted if something comes up that can help us. Things are moving quite quickly, and though Donna and I may well be too old to benefit, our mother’s cousin’s child might benefit, being somewhat younger.
In the meantime I’ve been dreaming about what I would do with a little bit of extra vision. I could appreciate a few Christmas lights. I could step gracefully through a few more train doors. But even if nothing else comes of it, I’ll still have the thrill of being the only person I’ve met so far who noticed that little article in the newspaper.

Monday, November 09, 2009


Careers get my curiosity going, ordinary careers, extraordinary careers, it doesn’t matter all that much. I simply never quite get over my amazement at how little we know about the work that others do. But this was an especially good weekend, because one of my on-going career questions got answered. I found out whether judges get mad when their decisions are overturned.
You hear it on the news all the time: Case was appealed. Lawyers will try to prove that the judge did not properly instruct the jury. Yes, I know, judges have tenure. Their salaries don’t go up or down with the rise and fall of appeals. So it really shouldn’t bother them—well, maybe.
I owe a vote of thanks to Anne and Mike who inadvertently helped me find the answer to this question by including me at a dinner party with a judge. I couldn’t help but notice the silence that fell when he said he was a judge. It was a bit like the silence that falls when you say you are a hope lady. Nobody is quite sure what to say next. I noticed how we all changed the subject. But the evening was a happy one, so eventually we got back to my question.
There are so many interesting careers around. Last summer we met a cow psychologist—yes, a cow psychologist. It’s not my description, it’s his. I’ve been noticing the silence that falls whenever we tell people we know a cow psychologist. They have no idea what to ask. Pictures of cows unburdening their souls on leather couches flash through their heads. But the University of Guelph recently published an article that explains it all. I guesss reporter Teresa Pitman was as curious as the rest of us.

For the Benefit of Bossy

New OVC prof glad to be back at Guelph, where there’s a ‘critical mass’ of researchers studying farm animal behaviour and animal welfare

Derek Haley
Prof. Derek Haley has had a fascination with cows since he was a child and is now dedicated to enhancing the welfare of cattle and other farm animals. PHOTO

When Prof. Derek Haley, Population Medicine, was 10, all his friends were asking for a puppy, but he wanted a cow — several cows, in fact. Because his family
lived on a hobby farm near Cornwall, his father went along with the request and made Haley responsible for the animals’ care.
“I remember him saying: ‘You wanted these cows, so you have to get out there and do the chores, even if it is winter,’” says Haley. Despite his occasional
reluctance to lug feed and shovel manure, “I loved watching the cows and wondering why they did what they did.”
Studying animal science at university might have been a natural next step, but Haley’s interest in sports and performance psychology led him instead to
the applied kinesiology program at the University of Windsor. Once he’d completed his degree, however, he knew that wasn’t going to be the foundation for
his career.
“I couldn’t get away from my interest in animals. When I discovered that people actually study the behaviour of farm animals, I knew that was what I wanted
to do, so I came to Guelph and did a master’s degree in applied ethology with Prof. Ian Duncan.”
When he graduated, Haley wasn’t looking to do a PhD, but after a number of contract research jobs with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, “I realized that’s
what it would take to keep me in the field I’m passionate about.”
So he headed to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. It was an ideal place to do his research, he says, because
“Saskatchewan has cows galore.”
After completing his PhD, Haley worked for Alberta Agriculture as a livestock welfare specialist and section head before joining the University of Alberta
as its first professor of applied ethology and animal welfare. Two years later, he applied for an opening at the Ontario Veterinary College and arrived
back on campus this summer.
“I love it here,” he says. “This is a place where we grapple with tough questions and figure out a way forward.”
Throughout his career, Haley’s goal has been to ask questions about animal behaviour, particularly cattle, and look for answers that will not only enhance
life for the animals but also keep farming profitable.
He has looked, for example, at how to make living quarters more comfortable for dairy cows. While working with Ag Canada, he studied different types of
floor design for stalls.
“Some floor coverings cause abrasions to the cow’s hocks and can eventually lead to open sores,” he says. “Softer floors encourage the cows to lie down
and rest more — about 1½ hours more a day. That allows them to put more energy into making milk. Being able to quantify that helps farmers make decisions
about what flooring is best when designing or renovating a barn.”
Haley also looked at the stress experienced by beef calves when they’re separated from their mother during weaning. That stress is probably a major reason
why there’s such a high level of illness in the calves, he says. The separation also distresses the cows.
To determine whether the calves’ stress was due to losing the milk or losing their mother, he fitted calves with a plastic nose flap that prevented them
from suckling but did not disrupt their interaction with their mother. He found that the calves showed little distress when the flaps were in place.
“So we thought: ‘Aha, their distress at weaning must be due to being separated from their mother,’” says Haley.
Part two of the experiment involved removing the flaps after four or five days and separating the mothers and their babies. Surprisingly, this did not
distress calves much either.
“If you think about a natural weaning, the mothers and babies are still together as milk intake is gradually reduced,” Haley says, explaining why this
two-step process works so well.
“So when the calf is stopped from nursing but still has its mother there, this mimics natural weaning more closely. Then the calf is more ready for the
He adds that this concept has been adopted in the cattle industry.
“About 265,000 of the nose flaps have been sold. They’re reusable, so farmers can use them year after year. It’s great because it improves the quality
of life for both the cows and the calves.”
Haley notes that this was a basic science question he was researching, not something he expected to have a commercial application, “but it has really borne
fruit. I think this demonstrates the importance of continuing to do basic curiosity-driven research and not just what we think will help us make more money,
because we don’t know which piece of research might lead us somewhere important.”
He is currently studying this two- step weaning approach with horses and is also looking at the different equine social bonds and attachments. He recently
received funding to study the behaviour of horses being raised for food and kept in feedlots.
His deep interest in animal welfare has led him to take on the role of faculty adviser to both the OVC Animal Welfare Club and the OVC student chapter
of the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behaviour.
For Haley, joining the faculty of U of G is like coming home.
“We have a critical mass here studying farm animal behaviour and animal welfare. We brainstorm and share ideas. At the University of Alberta, I was the
only one. It’s just a different environment here, and I’m very glad to be part of it.”

I complimented Derek on the article, and he was pleased, though he said he wished it had said one more thing. “I must admit the writer did capture the essence
of the story about how I have ended-up as a cow psychologist. The only part I might add that was missed, would be the early influence of my experiences
helping my grandfather look after his cows. I must have been 6 or 7 when I was struck by the responsibility around the fact that, the quality of life of
those animals depended almost entirely on the care we provided them.”

All this goes to show how important our careers can be, how they weave our lives together. I learned that it doesn’t seem to matter that judges have job security. They have pride, ”big pride,” said my new friend. ”They get mad when their decisions are overturned.”
Now we know.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Trudy’s note says:
Wendy I am looking forward to your piece on Barack's first anniversary. I was just reading something like that in the paper, by Lisa Van Dusen of the Washington
Bureau, and thought of you. At least he's still on his feet right?

What an interesting time it’s been! To have a prominent public figure use hope strategies in public, to have him teach a lesson on everything we know about the power of hope to nfluence behavior, the role of hope language in creating hope, and the emotional wallop you can get from a story if a hopeful person is organizing the content! Having come out so vehemently in support of Obama’s hope methods I, like Trudy, wondered how things would go for me if things didn’t go well for him.

This is what I want to write on the first anniversary of Obama’s election. I am disappointed for Barack, but not in him. I am disappointed for him because he took a big risk. He put his dreams out there in the most hopeful way possible and so far things have been pretty nasty. He says he has learned that governing is a lot harder than getting elected. Putting your dreams out there makes you very vulnerable. Cynical people who say they agree with your dreams, and those who blatantly disapprove of your dreams are bound to line up like spectators at a sporting event, watching in anticipation of your defeat. I guess that’s why so many of us are afraid to expose our dreams at the early stages when there is no certainty that they can come true. There was no certainty in Obama’s case because he did not have the power to make any of them come true without a lot of help from others. Anybody who thought that hope alone was going to make so many difficult things happen was seriously dillusional.
I am not disappointed in him because he never promised to give Americans health care, or end the war in Iraq. How could he promise these things without the power to enact them? What he did was to open up the possibility that they could happen, to say “Yes we can” when others said “No we can’t”. I am not disappointed in him because he proved that people could do something they never thought they could do in 2008--elect the first African American president. They could do that and they did do that, even though many of them thought it was impossible.
What else the American people will do in support of his dreams we do not, at this point, know. I am hoping they will rally behind the things he is trying to do so that they can get done. Their rallying will provide the power and the hope to continue. Then maybe he can get on with other things they want him to do.
At this point Barack is still my hero. I am continuing to read his speeches at workshops, to use them as examples of how we can use hope language to influence the behavior of others. As things developed I have been expecting to receive criticism for this, but so far I have received only support.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Hope is a personal thing. A quote that makes one person hopeful will annoy another half to death. It's a matter of perspective, and context of course. In the moment context is everything. Yet some quotes live beyond their context, taking on a significance of their own.
Here, I believe, is a potential hope quote for the future. It will be hopeful for those of us who tend to abandon hope and throw up our hands in despair when we think that something has gone one step forward and two steps back--a pretty common occurrence as we wind our way through the linked corridors and dead-ends of change. here’s a hope quote aptly stated by David Gibson in the Ideas section of today’s edition of the Edmonton Journal. “a reformed reform doesn't equal a return to the past”. Gibson’s ideas are thoroughly fleshed out, showing the remarkable way in which an effort to return to the past is creating a previously unimagined future. Here are a few pieces of the article.

Pope's traditionalist acts may have liberal results

When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope in April 2005, all the world rejoiced--or recoiled--with the certain knowledge that the cardinals had settled
on the one man who would be more conservative than John Paul II.

For those who weren't so enthused about the Holy Spirit's selection, there was grim consolation in the fact that Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, was 78 and
himself predicting a brief papacy that would serve as a transition to whatever came next.

Thus far, Benedict's papacy has been one of constant movement and change, the sort of dynamic that liberal Catholics-- or Protestants--are usually criticized
for pursuing. In Benedict's case, this liberalism serves a conservative agenda. But his activism should not be surprising: As a sharp critic of the reforms
of Vatican II, Ratzinger has long pushed for what he calls a "reform of the reform" to correct what he considers the excesses or abuses of the time.

Of course a "reformed reform" doesn't equal a return to the past, even if that were the goal. Indeed, Benedict's reforms are rapidly creating something
entirely new in Catholicism.

Friday, October 30, 2009


The need to be seen as a hopeful leader has taught me how important it is to recognize the difference between now and later. A clear understanding of this difference makes it easier to be hopeful in the face of anything impossible.
Right now many things are impossible, peace in Afghanistan, equitable distribution of wealth, and the solution of so many problems that I am asked to address in counselling. But who can tell what will be possible later? Who remembers the things that used to be impossible in the past?
For the first 55 years of my life I believed it was impossible to treat the condition that caused my blindness. I didn’t even know its name until I was an adult. Its name is Leber's congenital amaurosis. But what’s in a name anyway? Rather than hope for a cure, I pinned my hopes on other things and built the best life I could build, given the circumstances.
I had no need of doctors at that time, and they had little interest in me, for there was nothing they could do. Fifteen years ago the ophthalmologist who gave me the name told me that the researchers had begun to isolate the genes associated with Leber's congenital amaurosis. Having directed my hope elsewhere, I was interested, but only in passing. That doctor has long since retired. There isn’t an ophthalmologist anywhere who would know my name.
But these days it is not uncommon to read that people with my condition are being treated with gene therapy, are actually regaining useful vision. And though I have not yet found my way into the inner circle of professional knowledge and physician interest that would win me a spot among the candidates who might receive a treatment, I am beginning to poke at the edges of that circle, asking to be known. For the thing that has been good enough all these years—the idea that I need not consider something known to be impossible—is no longer a valid idea. The first 55 years was now. This is later.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Today I spent some time reading a few pages from the book Introducing Narrative Therapy by Cheryl Whyte and David Denborough (Dulwich Centre 1998). It’s a great book. Narrative therapy is a very complicated topic, and that book is an excellent effort to simplify it a bit. The authors do fairly well at keeping both the voice and spirit of narrative therapy. This is not an easy task because narrative therapists speak their work in a very friendly voice. But the writing about the process rarely captures the truly collaborative spirit of the work.
Though I was reading for a specific purpose, the reading had a larger effect than intended. It reminded me of an old hope I’ve had, the hope to write a decent little book on hope-focussed counselling.
On first examination, this doesn’t seem like such an unrealistic hope. They say you always start a book by writing what you know. I don’t think there’s anybody anywhere who could argue that I don’t know hope-focussed counselling. I’ve been doing it for years, teaching others how to do it for years. I am so confident in doing it that I can commit without much fear to conduct a hope-focussed interview on the spur of the moment before a live audience with a volunteer who, until that moment, was totally unknown to me. If I know it well enough to do that, then there really is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to write about it. Is there?
Reason or not, the prospect of writing such a book has daunted me for years. I think of it the way others think of quitting smoking, or running a marathon. In short, I think of it as a desirable thing that I cannot do, and it doesn’t help a bit to know that thinking you can’t do something is a major cause of not being able to do it.
There is no evidence that I can’t do it. In fact, looking at the evidence only proves that the idea that I cannot do this is truly ridiculous because I did once write a little book on the topic. It’s called Key Elements of Hope-Focussed Counselling. It was published in 1998 by the Hope Foundation and it sells for $5.00. It was a decent little book—little being the operative word. In 2009 it is sadly out of date, hinting at the possibilities but not laying them out. So many possibilities have been tested and articulated since then. The core of the work is unchanged, but we now implement hope-focussed strategies with much more precision than we imagined possible at the time when I did that writing.
So even though I have a lot of knowledge, and have even written one small book already, there are some good reasons why I can’t write a decent little book on hope-focussed counseling. Try as I might, and believe me, I have tried, I can’t find a comfortable voice to write in, a voice that speaks like a professional and feels like the real me. The real me is relational, conversational. She is like that in counselling. She is like that when she teaches.
The real me in a counselling session is warm, caring. It’s hard to write about counselling in that voice. When you write about counselling it tends to sound like us and them. “This was what was wrong with them and this is how we cured it.” The real me doesn’t think or talk like that in counselling.
The real me likes to be knowledgeable but doesn’t feel at home standing behind the voice of a lecturing expert. She compensates for this when talking to a group of professionals by saying funny things, quirky things. She can say such things in front of a crowd and get away with it. A mood is created in that contact, a mood that feels quite natural standing alongside a hope focus. I haven’t figured out how to create that mood in writing.
What would a hopeless person say about all this? A hopeless person would say, ”I really can’t write a decent little book about hope-focussed counselling. I tried and it didn’t work. I can’t write such a book in the voice of the real me.”
What would THE HOPE LADY say? My HOPE LADY Blog voice would say, “You can’t publish this writing on the blog because it’s not very hopeful. It’s setting a bad example.”
The teacher in me would say, “Figure this out using hope-focussed strategies. What would a hopeful person say?”
A hopeful person would say “”I haven’t yet figured out how to write a professional book in the voice of the real me.” A hopeful person would say, “I will get that book written when I figure out how to write a professional book in the voice of the real me.” A really hopeful person would say, “I believe I will one day be able to write that book.”
At this point, an honest me would have to admit that I’m not all that hopeful about being able to find a right writing voice. For that reason I really shouldn’t publish this little rant on THE HOPE LADY Blog. But then again, maybe I’ll take a course on writing a book. You never know what I might learn. After all, the world has many voices, and I do really admire this friendly book on narrative therapy by Whyte and Denborough.

Monday, October 26, 2009


I’ve been doing a little reading lately. A book that, surprisingly has caught my interest is Scattered Shadows, a memoir by John Howard Griffin. It’s a book about going blind and then regaining sight. Often it seems that I get more than my share of books about blind people, sent along by my main source of reading material, the CNIB library. Usually I open these books, skip quickly through them and send them back. Over a lifetime, you can only read so many books about the experience of going and being blind. But this one is a little different.
Griffin’s memoir, published as a book in 2004, is a compilation of journal entries and articles he wrote in the ten-year period between 1947 and 1957. During this period, suffering consequences of nerve injuries from World War II, he gradually lost his eyesight, the use of his legs and sensation in his extremities. He bred ribbon-winning livestock by touch, learned to use a typewriter and read braille, wrote two best-selling novels, was a key player in a Supreme Court battle over censorship, regained the use of his legs, and finally got his eyesight back. He also married. His first child was born when he was in a wheelchair. He was on crutches when the second child arrived. He saw his third child on the day of his birth. His journalistic accounts of regaining his vision came at a time of poverty for his growing family. They brought in enough money to support the family for a year. Yes, John Howard Griffin was a most unforgettable man.
Griffin certainly had some interesting ideas. In fact, I read his book twice just to enjoy them. Take, for example, his theory that people would adjust to blindness much more easily were it not for the presence of sighted people. In support of this theory he observes that a blind person left to his own devices will freely explore his environment, locating its features and adjusting to its particularities. But then, as soon as sighted people enter the scene, that same blind man will cease his searching behavior, will stop exploring, and sit politely in one place, make himself dependent on the sighted people.
Sighted people are rather uncomfortable with the kind of searching and exploring that works well for their blind counterparts, and we blind people are uncomfortable learning about our environment while they watch. . The sensible thing for a blind person to do upon entering an unfamiliar house would be to take a touch tour of the walls the way sighted people take a glancing tour, identifying with hands and feet the location of furniture, admiring the ornaments. Such an exploration would facilitate independence and provide valuable information. I say Griffin has hit the nail on the head. I cannot imagine how much more I would know if I took it upon myself to explore the environments I enter.
I recall a time many years ago, making my first-ever visit to my sister’s new home. She was there to welcome me when I arrived. She invited me to sit on the couch. Then, summoned by some urgent call, she went out for a few minutes.
The moment she was gone I got to my feet and did a touch tour of the whole house, visiting all the rooms, finding the position of things relative to each other. By the time she returned I was perfectly comfortable at her house. Funny, isn’t it, that I would not have explored while she was there.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


How often do I lecture a group of professionals on the value of using the language of “I hope”?
Pretty often, I guess. It is, after all, one of my favourite hope ideas. “Get things going,” I say, “by asking your clients to identify their hopes in the language of I hope. Get it out there on the table,” I say. “Find out what they are hoping for.” And though I’d hope to report that my lesson is well received with open minds by excited professionals who can hardly wait to go back to work so they can try it, well, I suspect the reality falls somewhere short of my hope.
Thinking about this brings to mind several related experiences from my past. In each experience, I was at a bowling alley, throwing wobbly misguided balls down the stretch. In each of the experiences, some well-meaning and overly optimistic on-looker left a comfortable seat to stand by my side. There would be words of encouragement to me, “A little coaching will fix this problem. Stand a little more to the left when you throw.”
To the left I would stand. Into the left gutter would go the ball. “Stand a little more on an angle,” the coach would say, adjusting my shoulders slightly after bringing me the next ball. Right gutter for sure.
“Bend your knees a little,” the patient coach would urge. A weak ball would wander down the alley, stopping somewhere near the end.
“Do exactly the same thing harder,” the coach would enthuse. Left gutter ball again.
And so it would go, for a while anyway, until the coach had exhausted all possibilities. All coaching considered, bowling balls are mysteriously independent objects when placed in my hands. Needless to say, I haven’t been bowling lately.
I work so easily in the language of I hope, as easily as some people work a bowling ball down an alley. My client files invariably contain lists of hopes, hopes we explore together, hopes that change over time, hopes that get discarded, hopes that flower brighter than spring lilacs, hopes I look back on time and time again. The conversations that generate hope lists are the foundational building blocks of my work. They support a structure of communication in which hope is an explicit ally as well as an implicit support. I nurture them. I cherish them. Just how others manage without a good list of hopes to get them started is surely a wonder to me.
“Use the language of I hope to start a discussion with your patients,” I suggest at a workshop with a mental health team. I give a few examples from hope lists I have known.
A doctor pipes up. “I don’t really see the value of these hopes,” he says honestly, but not unkindly. “I am hoping the patients will take medication and they are hoping not to take medication. How is that getting us anywhere?”
“Oh,” say I. “This is only the beginning of a much longer conversation. Once you’ve told them you hope they’ll take medication, you need to tell them why you hope that, to inspire their hope by letting them know what changes you expect to see when they start taking the medication. You need to help them understand the reasons why you are recommending it, the good results you see in their future. If they are hoping not to take medication, the chances are that they are afraid of something. Perhaps you can replace their fear with hope.”
A silence falls. A gap has opened up between me and the doctor. In this room in front of these others, I don’t know quite how to bridge it. It would take role-playing. It would take practice. It would take hard work for my ideas to inform his understanding. And so ends the conversation. It’s only a workshop after all.
I have a feeling that it will take a long conversation to make me a better bowler. Somewhere there’s a gap of understanding between the coaches’ ideas about my body position and my ability to imagine where the ball will go once it has left my hand. So far I’ve yet to launch a ball under the gaze of an optimistic on-looker who could truly make me believe it would be worth my effort to strike out on a journey across the gap. But I’d work at it—honest I would—if only more professionals would be willing to give the language of I hope a fair chance.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


“We can’t be thinking that we must choose between hope and reality.” That’s what I always say. I Say, “Reality will always be there. It’s not a choice. The choice we have is whether or not to have hope alongside the reality.”
That said, and said often too, I found myself in a right tizzy over a lunch presentation I was invited to give. The request came from a hospital chaplain looking for a speaker to help the hospital celebrate Spiritual Care Week. He said, “We need somebody to give us hope given all the cutbacks and changes.”
Cutbacks and changes? This man is surely a master of the understatement. Last spring our health system was in full boom mode. Nursing schools were growing and recruiters were combing the world to see what nurses we could steal from poorer countries who had trained them. Politicians were proudly announcing major new medical centres. Doctors were flocking here everywhere.
It was a welcome change from the early 1990’s, when, following a boom, enormous cutbacks threw the system into chaos. Beds were closed, services were regionalized into 17 regions. Elections were held so that “real people without special interest” could run the system. The elected officials were dismissed. The number of regions was cut to 9. The number of regions was cut to 1. Taxes were cut in the time of prosperity. Health care premiums were eliminated. And then, when the boom turned to bust, as booms have done throughout history, the government said we didn’t want any new taxes, or restoration of the premiums that used to pay the bills, and hired a guy from Australia to shrink the system. In the blink of an eye we no longer needed any nurses, and we could close entire hospitals on the promise that the community would pick up the slack. Students in spiritual care came to work and found they no longer had supervisors. Hospitals didn’t need many chaplains. “We need somebody to give us hope given all the changes and cutbacks,” said the man, and the very idea of making a luncheon speech to people experiencing all of this put me into a right tizzy.
I fussed and stewed for a while, then put the file away and got on with other things. As the date for the lunch approached I retrieved the file and waited for inspiration to take charge. Inspiration was apparently unavoidably detained.
Down I went to the main floor to throw myself on the mercy of my colleagues. “I don’t know how to go there,” I whined.
Now I think, and this is always a motivator, that although my colleagues are always there to support me, there was not one of them who lusted after the opportunity to take my place. So when I remained unaided by their assurances that everything would be all right, they stepped up to the plate and got creative. Rachel said, “Wendy, if we can easily talk about hope with people who are dying, how bad can staff cuts and system changes really be?”
There was no argument that could be made to that. So we had a good laugh, and then we role-played some really irreverent things that I could say but wouldn’t, and then I got some of my old faithful materials together and went to speak at lunch.
Three people had arrived 5 minutes before talk time. My host said, “I don’t know how many people will be here.”
“We’ll be fine with three,” I said.
Two more people came in, two more followed behind. Three minutes past start time the crowd had swelled to forty and the room was feeling full. The universe was friendly. The crowd contained a program assistant who went to school with my kids, and the mother of a young university student I taught in last year’s hope class. They laughed at my little jokes, and we talked for a while about the hope-sucking conditions that plague their work.
When it came time to provide the hope, I brought out Barrack Obama’s acceptance speech and showed them how he artfully gathered American history into a “yes we can” scenario when he might have used the same facts to write a speech called “No we can’t.” Then we talked for a moment about the long view of health history, the gains that have been made over a century and never lost. Then we ran out of time. There’s only so much you can do in 55 minutes. They laughed at my final jokes and went smiling back to work.
Not much changed in health care that day, though it struck me that some patients might have a better afternoon because I’d been in the basement in their hospital at lunch. And once again I was confronted with the truth, the thing I know beyond any doubt, the truth that holds across the world, across the ages. Hope exists regardless of the circumstances. Some people see it more easily than others. Hope work gives tools to those who tend to see it, tools of story and language and symbol, tools of humour and understanding. If you can find somebody who can see hope and show you how they see it, it’s not so difficult to see it yourself.

Friday, October 23, 2009


How fun it was to find, while searching my name on the internet, a blog describing one of my all time favourite hope projects. Authored by a former family physician, HOPE 101 it describes and shows pictures of the Edmonton family medicine clinic that adopted a hope theme and implemented a new set of hope practices that started with a sincere interest in hope and changed a clinic to a place where patients and physicians could see hope.

Monday, October 19, 2009


I had a few worries when I came upon the idea of getting up early to do pool exercises before going to work.
I worried that it would be difficult to get up an hour earlier. I needn’t have worried. It’s not hard at all. I worried that the bus service at that hour would be unreliable. But the bus has been on time every single day. I worried that the water would be cold. I needn’t have worried. The water feels warm, not a shiver in it. Without my white cane to warn them off, I worried about bumping into fellow aqua-joggers. What can I say about that? Hardly anybody aqua-jogs at that hour! I worried that I wouldn’t keep going to the pool after it snowed. No worries there. It snowed last week just to test me, and I went anyway. I worried about crossing the streets that have no audible traffic signals at a time when there are few people to help, and not enough cars to let you know whether the light is red or green. I still worry about this, but not enough to make staying home an option.
There were a whole bunch of worries I didn’t have, though I can’t say for sure why I didn’t have them, given that my mind isn’t always as sharp as I’d like it to be around 6:00 AM. Be proactive was my motto, so I did try to ward off potential problems. I knew the little touches would make all the difference, like putting on my bathing suit under my clothes every morning, just to save time at the pool. If any problems came up, I felt sure they wouldn’t matter.
I was right too. After all, it didn’t really matter that I accidentally wore my pink sweater into the swimming pool one morning instead of taking it off when I undressed. I was able to button up the pink over-sweater so high that nobody at the office even guessed that the smart little matching sweater which should have been showing itself at the front was secretly drying in my coat closet.
And it didn’t really matter that my towel decided to stay home one day. It didn’t matter because Rhonda, my favourite lifeguard, rose eloquently to the occasion the moment she saw me slinking out onto the pool deck with the despairing face of one who is calculating the amount of time that will be needed to dry an entire body under the change-room hand dryer. Boldly rejecting my offer of cash, she vehemently presented my case to the guy in charge of the towels. I heard her say, ”That lady comes really often and she always brings her own towel.”.
And it didn’t really matter about the other thing—the unmentionable thing either, because when all is said and done, I don’t think anybody ought to go through an entire career without ever experiencing the heightened adventure of spending a full day in the role of professional woman freed from the tyranny of underwear.
Indeed, given the evidence presented so far, it does seem that in the matter of going for a morning dip on the way to work there is nothing to worry about at all.

Friday, October 16, 2009


“I miss my mom,” I said to David as we were preparing thanksgiving dinner. We were unbagging those nice clean vegetables that come from the farmer’s market, a little swish of water and you dump them into the pot.
Mom’s been dead for about four years now. “I miss her cooking,” I said. He said he missed it too. “And I miss being in the kitchen with her, getting things ready.”
At times like this your senses kick in. Just thinking about those good old days I could pretty much feel my hands hoisting and scrubbing and trying to peel those great big knobby garden potatoes stuck together like Siamese twins, triplets, mud caked in the places where they join. I could remember raising up my shoulder and slamming the knife down hardr than a camper’s axe to split those carrots that were so huge it only took one of them to feed five or six people. Do I miss that part? Maybe not so much. But I do miss my Mom.
Every spring she’d make the journey down to the basement, into her cold room. The cold room was the place where she kept the food. On the shelves there were beet pickles, the best beet pickles I have ever eaten. There were dill pickles, sweet pickles, canned raspberries. Some of them put up last fall, some of them—maybe a little older. Believe me, that cold room in spring was scarier than any haunted house you’d put together for your kids at Halloween. She’d open the door and after checking for mice, listening for frogs, she’d reach down into a dark bin where no arm really ought to go. She’d pull out something withery and soft, with tails hanging off it. Then she’d take that thing out to the garden, stick it in the ground, give it a little water, give it a little time and presto! It was garden magic! She’d have enough new potatoes to feed the army, with some left over for the navy and the air force. And that was only the beginning of mother’s garden. There’d be radishes and lettuce, peas and beans, carrots and parsnips and turnips, onions and cabbage and tomatoes, beets and cucumbers for pickles, and finally when you thought you couldn’t wait another day, there’d be corn on the cob.
But one spring day Mom said to me, “This will be the first time in 61 years that I haven’t planted a garden.” She was in the hospital then, sleeping on an air matress to chase away the bed sores, all tied up with tubes. She was suffering. It was hard visiting her, hard on the back, hard on the heart. When my dad heard her say the thing about the garden he jumped up and said, “Well, I guess I’d better go home and plant the garden.”
That made her laugh. He’d been growing food ever since he left school at the age of 13--growing wheat and barley and oats and canola and occasionally even flax. But planting a garden and fixing the vegetables was women’s work.
In June they packed Mom into the car and sent her home for a visit. She looked sceptically at the garden. The rows weren’t quite where they should be. The beets were probably planted too deep. The radishes needed eating. Still, things did seem to be growing. Mom went back to the hospital, a little room with a bed and chair, paying for tv and telephone by the day.
One day they offered Mom a choice. Did she want to stay where she was, or would she rather go to the room marked palliative care? Apparently the name palliative care keeps some people out. But Mom was always a practical sort. They’ve got a 27 inch tv in there and a free phone, she said. They’ve got a recliner for your father and a couch that guests can sleep on. They’ve got a microwave and a coffee pot and a toaster and a fridge and dishes in the cupboard, they still serve three meals a day. The room also had a patio door, leading out onto a patio with a table and chairs.
And a good thing it was that she moved, for out in the garden, the vegetables were getting restless. You couldn’t blame the turnips and radishes. They were bothered by bugs. Peas were bursting out of their pods, carrots were pushing and groaning and twisting around each other. The beets were jamming together and, of course, there were a lot of potatoes.
So every weekend we’d go to Dad’s house and help him get in the vegetables. Then we’d throw a roast in the crockpot, and we’d clean and shell and peel and scrape. We packed up the dinner when it was cooked and rush it to the hospital. A little crowd of family across the generations would gather there and we’d all go out to the patio with mom and eat together,. The nurses came out to take pictures. That was four years ago now. Seems like yesterday.
Not long ago we had dinner at dad’s. We told him we were coming. Dinner was ready when we got there. He served beet pickles. Oh they were good—not just god, they were great in the way that only beet pickles can be great- round and slippery and delicious; sweet and sour at the same time; tangy and gentle at the same time; firm and juicy at the same time.
“These taste just like Mom’s beet pickles,” I said.
“They are Mom’s beet pickles,” he said. “Seems like they’re not too old yet. There’s only a few jars left.”
He didn’t stop at beet pickles. These days, if you invite yourself to dinner at Dad’s, and the season is right, you will be served sweet buttered corn so fresh it snuggles the memory of the garden’s afternoon sun, and carrots scrubbed glossy and turned in butter, and slices of fried ham, or roast of beef from the crockpot. And did I mention potatoes? Well, no matter what else, there will always be potatoes, for the garden has performed its usual wonders.
And you might find it difficult to believe that this is the same man who, by the age of 79 had eaten mostly meals that had been cooked by his mother, or his wife, or an unseen cook behind a swinging door. But then, this could just be the final proof that an old dog can learn new tricks, or maybe it’s simply Dad’s indisputable declaration that eighty is not old at all for some dogs.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


October 14, walking to the bus stop, walking in the approximate location where there was a sidewalk last week. Now it’s anybody’s guess what’s under there. A week ago there was snow, and even in Alberta we don’t usually shovel snow that falls in the first week of October.
Last week the trees looked down at the ground. “”Snow,”” they cried. ”It can’t be snowing yet. We haven’t even turned our leaves to fall colours yet, let alone dropped them.”
This was certainly irregular. All the trees agreed on it. Some of the trees wanted to wait for the weather to warm up. Most of them waited. But the weather did not warm up, so they called on the wind to blow their leaves off.
“”How can I blow your leaves off,”” whined the wind. “”They are still green and hanging in clumps.””
But the trees insisted. If there was snow on the ground, they reasoned, then it was time for the leaves to fall. Now the wind faced a challenge. A little breeze had definitely not been enough to dislodge those green leaves. Then Wind had an idea.
It blew hard, very hard, lift-the-veranda-furniture-up-and-toss-it-on-the-lawn hard. It only took a day of that before things started to happen. Down came the leaves, not the dry flaky leaves of most Octobers. Oh no. These were the green leaves, falling in clumps of five or six, falling like the branches Noah’s dove carried in its mouth when it flew out to Noah to tell him that land was somewhere beyond the horizon. Down they fell until they lay there ankle deep, reaching for the knee, catching in the laces of your snowboots.
Normally most people would rake up a sidewalk full of ankle-deep, the leaves. But even Albertans don’t usually rake the majority of their leaves when the temperature is hovering around -10 with a major wind chill. They wait for the weather to warm up.
Meanwhile, the skies noticed how interested we all were in the unusual weather. How could they have missed it? Hardly was there a conversation about anything else. Even skies tend to do more of whatever gets you attention. So they continued to dumpt a little skiff of snow each day—conversation starter snow, they called it.
But, as people will, people began to get bored talking about the same thing all the time. So desensitized were they that even the coldest Thanksgiving on record couldn’t impress them.
So the skies had a meeting. ”We’ve been playing it entirely too low key,” they concluded. ”If we want to get attention, we have to produce something truly significant.”
Soon they were dropping snow in balls and banks, dropping it like it was Christmas. They dropped it on the ankle deep piles of leaves that had been insulating the layer of sidewalk snow below. They dropped it on the lawns and the streets and the bus stop benches. They halted the traffic.
You worry about being late on a day when the wind is blowing, and the snow is falling in banks and balls on the ankle-deep leaves that are insulating the snow that covered the sidewalks that were there last week. I worried about being late for physio. But my worry was needless. ”Don’t come in yet,”called Laura, the physiotherapist. ”Wait until I get the shoveling done.”
I think they call it multi-tasking. Even a physiotherapist in Alberta doesn’t hire a contractor to shovel snow before October 15.

And the reason for writing all this is …
Well, why not? Maybe my future grandchildren won’t believe me if I tell them how lousy the weather was in October of 2009, so I might as well turn it into a story.

Friday, October 09, 2009


An the news flash says:

Barack Obama awarded Nobel Peace Prize for bringing hope. Critics say he hasn’t taken any action.

I say it will take a lot of action by a lot of people to make the change he brought hope for, and we have yet to see whether enough people will take enough action to make it come about. But we could say for sure that none of this change would likely be possible unless someone with the power to lead led many other people to hope for it too.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


I like to think that most of my professional work, the counselling, the teaching, the group facilitating, the presenting, the supervision of aspiring counsellors—I like to think that most of this work is hope work. People say my standards are pretty high, seeing as how I keep insisting that we have to be able to put hope alongside reality, look at them together and stil have both.
When I look closely at my work, I see that some of it doesn’t meet my standards, maybe because I am human, and some people have huge problems, and good counselling requires a large array of skills, and teaching takes a lot of preparation, and group work can be taxing, and some audiences are more receptive than others, and the task of inspirational student supervision is harder than it looks.
So I try to remember to remind myself that a lot of implicit hope work happens without my notice, taking on a life of its own when I respect people, listen to them and give them some combination of control with the information to help them use it. And I try to remember to think about doing hope work. The surprising thing is that when I do think it, I mean really think it--the surprising thing is that when I do think it, some of the work that wasn’t necessarily hope work tends to turn into hope work.
It helps to have some tools. When I think about hope work I am more apt to tell a hopeful story, to ask a question about hope, to suggest a symbol of hope, or recommend a book, or stop doing something that appears to be taking the hope away. But tools aren’t always enough. The many tools in a hope work repertoire can be put to good use, but no matter how many wonderful hope tools I have in the repertoire, the first step in doing hope work is to think about doing it.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


THE HOPE LADY Blog has been curiously silent. A number of you have noticed this. What does it mean? Have I lost hope? Am I languishing in the depths of despair? Did I stop going to the pool in the mornings before work? Has a crisis overtaken my life? Did I contract the flu? And the short answer is ………………. NO!!!!
In truth, I am just fine, more than fine really, only it seems that, when it comes to the blog, I may have—well, forget the may--I have developed a case of writer’s block. I surely wish I could write more about that!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


(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!

Friday, September 25, 2009


When it comes to thinking, there may possibly be no better aid, no more effective facilitator than the water exercise belt. It’s a simple technology really, simple but brilliant. There’s a piece of foam rubber to go around your back, a belt to tighten through it, and a buckle for the belt. Once you’re in it you can move in deep water without having to worry about whether your head will go under. Relieved of that concern, standing upright with your legs free to move without attention to where you are stepping, your mind is at liberty to wander.
This morning my mind wandered off into territory usually occupied by my buddy and colleague Lenora, the territory of possible selves. This is familiar territory for her. She works primarily with kids, helping them imagine hopeful possibilities for their future selves. This morning it felt natural for me to be there, seeing as how I was floating along, maybe being noticed by strangers who, humorously and impossibly, might be thinking of me as a jock, an exercise fanatic. Yes, I know it’s unlikely. But still it’s possible. Strangers, after all, know so little about your history. They know only the self they see, and the me these strangers see is out in a bathing suit around 7:00 AM. You can’t really blame them if they’ve misunderstood, can you?
Having wandered there, my thoughts continued on until they came to the work that is coming up for me, a trip to Vancouver, an evening with the parents of children with severe disabilities. A funny thing happened in the planning of this event. It was organized by the staff of Sunny Hill Health Centre. They planned a parents’ evening on hope and advertised it. To their surprise they began to get a very enthusiastic registration, not only from the parents for whom the evening was planned, but also from the parents of grown children with severe disabilities. Once a parent, always a parent—as far as hope is concerned.
Hope, where parents are concerned, shrinks itself down from the rosy future picture to the present reality. I’ve heard it said—and thought more than once myself—that the earth’s population would likely die out altogether if parents at the prenatal stage were fully informed about the challenges they were taking on. Anticipating the birth of our children we imagine, without really knowing we are imagining it, laughing with bubble-blowing babies, glowing over honour-role graduates, bragging to our fellow seniors about our compassionate care-giving children, there to help us in our old age. We imagine a blissful state of loving parenthood with ourselves at the centre of wisdom. It is a future anyone would covet.
Though few parents are awarded the luxury of such a reality, none are more challenged to rise to the task of becoming possible selves than the parents of children with severe disabilities. Without warning or preparation they are called upon to be so many things they never intended to be—loyal defenders, advocates, brave and cheerful accepters, special educators, medical experts, managers of staff—all possible, but not hoped for, not hoped for at first anyway. Later—prodded by an urgent necessity--they hope to be all these things, and they work toward that hope. The age at which a dependent child becomes a dependent adult is not a magic age. This, perhaps, explains how it happened that so many of the registrants at the hope session for parents are not the parents of children, but rather the parents of adults.

Monday, September 21, 2009


To those of you who, like me, remain slack-jawed with amazemen at my having made it into the pool at the Y before work on 10 consecutive business days including 2 Fridays when I didn’t have to be at the office, I beg you not to worry. The world isn’t ending. There are always logical explanations to account for unexpected events. Here are my top ten.

10 Nobody objects when I practice the alto parts of choir anthems while I water-jog
9 Sometimes I am the only person in the pool (possible explanation for reason 10)
8 The Y is directly on the route between home and the office
7 You can access the lRT from the y without going outside (excellent on wet-hair-days)
6 The pool staff are nice to me
5 Nobody asks me for anything when I’m there
4 The water feels warm when you put the first toe in
3 The water still feels warm when you put your stomach in
2 The shower is warm when you get out of the pool


1 I haven’t been able to think of a good excuse to skip.