Tuesday, March 31, 2009

BEFORE AND AFTER WELSH CAKES

There are, in anyone’s life, more than a few before-and-after moments, times when things are one way before, and another after. Life always has its biggies. You know them when you get to them. There’s the moment when your first child was born, the moment when the marriage license was signed. And then there are the others, the ones you don’t even know you are having.
I wasn’t at all prepared for a before-and-after moment on the Sunday evening when I bit into that first Welsh Cake. Oh sure, I was having Sunday dinner with my boyfriend’s family, but it was an ordinary kind of dinner like my own mom might have made, chicken maybe, potatoes and possibly cauliflower. Then came dessert—ice cream for everyone and a plate of small flat griddle cookies passed around the table.
“Will you have a Welsh Cake Wendy?”
“Sure, I’ll try one, thanks.”
I was casual about it then, casual but careful to be polite like my mom would have wanted. Casual and careful. You never know what might be in a cookie, a Welsh cookie. I’d never been to Wales. If it wasn’t to my liking it would be my first and last-ever Welsh Cake. I’d better take it slowly. Oh yes, I was casual and careful too, but also ill informed about the big change on the horizon. What I did not know until it was too late is that a Welsh Cake is not a thing to be toyed with. It is not simply a cookie. It’s something addictive.
A Welsh Cake is a flat little disk, a centimetre thick, maybe 5 across. You sink your teeth in. There’s a little currant, a hint of nutmeg. You nibble the first bite, take a few more, and the thing is done.
Done, that’s what I thought. That’s why I said, “Oh, no thanks. I’m awfully full,” when the plate came to me a second time.
“Well,” said David’s father, “We’ll set the plate right beside you so you can have one if you change your mind.”
Some of the evening’s tension fell away. Here was an act of surprising graciousness, putting a plate within my reach and telling me it was there. A blind person never really knows what’s on the table and where it might be. If I’d ever thought about getting married, I had always assumed there would be a difficult time of acceptance into a family when a blind girlfriend came to dinner. But on the before-and-after Welsh Cakes day, I don’t think we had talked about marriage.
Dinner at the Edey house was a noisy affair, chatter about all manner of things. At that time a new hand-held calculator had just been purchased for $150. You could carry it in one hand! It ran on batteries. It didn’t use any paper! A paperless calculator? What a wonder!
I was totally paying attention, completely absorbed by all that was said. Really, truly I was. I wasn’t even thinking about food. How could I? I was stuffed! It was my hand that did it, that reached out, without my even knowing it, reached right out and picked up a Welsh Cake. Before I knew it I’d taken a bite. And I ask you, what could I do but finish? You can’t put a bitten cookie back on the plate.
The conversation went on. “Remember when we went to expo 67 and Dad was the only one who could pack the car because there wasn’t even one extra inch for anything after that huge tent went in with the cots for Mum and Dad. Remember that? Remember the cots? What happened to the cots?”
Camping with a whole family in a huge tent with cots? I’d never heard of such a thing. My family didn’t camp. And what was a cot, anyway. I was totally engaged, really, really listening, not paying the slightest attention to my hand, which is probably how it managed to reach right over, and pick up another Welsh Cake, and pop it in for a first bite, without my even knowing it was happening.
That night I learned an important lesson. You can’t hide an addiction forever. It will surely be revealed. “Better get a few more Welsh Cakes,” said David’s father. “That plate by Wendy is empty.”
Oh the shame! What would my mother have said about such manners? My face was a flaming torch of red. “I don’t want any more, really,” I protested. But nobody believed me. And that was the very last time they ever believed me when I refused a Welsh Cake. From that day forward there was always a choice to be made, either accept a Welsh Cake, or sit through another telling of the story. So I hardly ever refused a Welsh cake, a policy upheld since 1972. Call it co-dependence if you like.
A Welsh Cake addiction isn’t such a bad thing. It runs in families. My children have it too. The Edey family eats a lot of them. It’s the official family cookie, a point of family pride. And the Edey family was always kind to me, right from that first day. I guess family pride mattered more to them than good manners.

Friday, March 27, 2009

DID YOU SAY OBSTACLES?

Here is a story for those who despair at the dismal employment statistics for people with disabilities. Yesterday THE HOPE LADY went to North Battleford to speak about hope at a conference sponsored by the RCMP Regional Victims’ Services. It is, to say the least, a little inconvenient for a conference committee to hire a blind speaker for a North Battleford conference. It’s not a place you can fly to, and taking a taxi there from Saskatoon would be financially prohibitive. You’d want to hire speakers who could drive. But hope is a sought-after topic, and I have found over the years that Saskatchewan is home to highly creative conference committees who find ways to deal with the situation.
In this instance a salt-of-the-earth fellow named Clay was waiting for me at the airport. The moment we met I knew we were going to be friends. Did I want a coffee or a snack before we got on the road? Was there anything else he could do for me? Just let him know if I needed him to stop the car so that my aching back could go for a walk. He has a bad back too and he knows that you just can’t go on when a back makes up its mind to spasm. And why don’t I just take the whole box of tissues from the car, since it’s clear that my purse can’t possibly be big enough to support enough tissues to soak up the flood from my cold for a whole day.
Says Clay, when I remark on his talent for guiding a blind person, “I am getting a little practice. Yesterday I drove Gord Paynter.”
Here is a committee that didn’t stop at one blind speaker. Gordon Paynter is a blind man from Ontario who makes a living as a stand-up comic. Undaunted by obstacles, the committee had hired him the previous evening as the banquet entertainer for this same conference.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

HAPPY RETIREMENT SHIRLEY CAMERON

A little something to remember on those days when I think nothing ever changes.
Shirley Cameron retires this week. Only thirty-six years ago, in 1973, she started work as Edmonton’s first female letter carrier. It’s hard to put this in perspective in this day and age, when letter carriers are as likely to be female as male. Shirley’s hiring coincided with the first hiring of female bus drivers in Edmonton.
So often we hear the sad lament. Women are no longer in their kitchens waiting to welcome their children. Let us raise a chorus in honor of the reality that women now have some other place to go.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

SNOWFLAKE REBELLION

Rachel made a snowflake out of W’s,
Made it just for me, one of her W’s,
To decorate my world in dark December
Her yearning call for snowflakes to be falling.

Rachel claims she never yearned for snowflakes
To dump in deepest drifts through endless January
Nor clog the walks and streets of freezing February,
Nor mound in muddy mayhem marring March.

And though I’m sure I’ll never tire of Rachel,
I frankly feel a full fatigue of snowflakes.
And since I cannot melt them like I long to,
Today I’ll do the one thing that I can do.

The W’s are banished from my window!

Monday, March 16, 2009

COUNSELLING NOT WITH STANDING

There was a time when the idea of having a sit-down job was totally appealing. It was, as you might already have guessed, that long-ago period when I had a stand-up job, serving customers from behind a counter. Those were the tired-feet swollen-ankle days of my youth, when I counted the hours until lunch break would bring the respite of the tall stool amid the boxes in the back room. How I wished for a sit-down job!
I got a sit-down job, several in a row actually. And I’ll say that things went pretty well for the first thirty years of sitting. These days, not so much. It’s not that I don’t still like sitting. I love it, really I do. Trouble is, my back has decided to reject sitting as a viable option. And things, as a result, are changing.
How are they changing? Let me count the ways! Come to my house on a Saturday morning. Where you would once have found me in the rocking chair, nursing a warm coffee cup, now you’ll find me pacing the length and breadth of the house, sipping coffee as I walk. It’s the morning limbering up with caffeine. Now for the newspaper. Where once I would have retired to the study to read the electronic paper in the comfort of the office chair, I now move the laptop to the kitchen counter and read the paper where I stand.
Sunday mornings begin much the same way Saturdays start, and then there’s church, where I tend to sit on the piano bench, playing along with my music buddies. Oh I still sit there most of the time, but now I leap to my feet at the smallest possible opportunity, and I am learning to understand how so many musicians manage to play music while under the influence of substances. I used to wonder how Elvis did it. Now I know. You really can play music in an altered state.
Weekends notwithstanding, the biggest challenge of all comes in the work week. Counselling, when you get down to it, is a sitting job. “I’m just going to stand for a few minutes,” I say guiltily to my clients. ”My back is acting up.”
”Too bad,” they say with great compassion. ”Go ahead. Stand as long as you like.” They’re a nice lot, my clients. And though it’s true that my standing up is a conscious decision to attend to them at a time when pain has distracted my attention far from their problems, a stand-up counselling session somehow lacks that special atmosphere of caring I like to create.
My colleagues are invariably willing to sympathize. While I preside, standing, at the lunch table, they question me to make sure I am getting good treatment. They encourage me to take time off work if I need it. Then, knowing that I am determined to see this thing through, they begin proposing options to carry me until the pain can be arrested.
“We’ll get you a spiffy counselling office with a couch,” they pledge. “It will have a unique reverse configuration. The clients will sit and you will lie down.”
This, I concede, is something I had not considered. But I, in a show of pessimism, nix the idea. How would clients feel, having me lie down while they talk? What if I fell asleep? Much as I hate to admit it, nodding off during a lie-down counselling session is a possibility supported by historic evidence. I remember falling asleep many years ago when a volunteer reader was reading me a particularly boring textbook. Lacking available library space, we had been granted the use of a vacant bedroom in a university residence. There was only one chair, so I offered to lie on the bed. Noticing that I had fallen asleep, the volunteer, guided by the true spirit of altruism that compels people to read frightful books to blind students, halted the reading and tiptoed from the room so as not to wake me. I suppose it was a reprieve for her also.
To my colleagues I say, ”I Don’t know if the clients would feel cared about if I were to conduct their sessions lying down.” It is meant to be my final word on the subject.
Colleagues in another work place might have been discouraged by my lack of flexibility, but Hope Foundation is no ordinary work place. We operate in a culture of searching for options.
Says Joan, ”There is no need for you to create inequity by lying down while they sit. Your clients could simply lie down facing you.”
To my knowledge, no beds have yet been ordered. Still, I’ve been rehearsing the script this afternoon. It will be easy enough to get started. ”Welcome to Hope House!” I’ll say. ”Amazing things happen here. Come to my office and we’ll lie down together for counselling!”
That’s what I’ll say. What I can’t quite imagine is what they’ll say.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

DOUBT

Went to a play last night. It was Doubt: A Parable, John Patrick Shanley's Tony and Pulitzer winner of 2005. I ought to have liked it. It had things that usually win me over, strong characters, a little humour, a plot with social comment and competing values. It even had a happy ending of sorts.
I hated it. Even as people around us were rising for a standing o, I was turning to David and saying, “The ending is wrong. It’s not founded on anything we’ve seen in the play.”
Today’s Edmonton Journal offers a gushing review. Of that same ending, film critic Liz Nicholls writes: “We find we've been holding our breath, and can't wait to discuss.” Maybe it was my sore back and throbbing leg that was making me so grumpy.
I couldn’t wait to get home. My ears were ringing with the tedious shouting that drove me to distraction. Liz Nicholls wrote: “Anger is one of the least sustainable emotions onstage. In fashioning the angriest character of recent memory, the superb Cadeau turns fury into theatrical gold.”
I saw an infuriating old biddy who has a millisecond of doubt in the last millisecond of the play. Nickolls wrote: “Death and taxes, the twin cliches of sureness in the world, seem positively wispy in comparison to the formidable Sister, who wages war under the banner of "moral right." On what has she built the towering, unshakable architecture of her own certainty? Doubt is fascinatingly complex, as it sets in motion its power struggle between old-school steel and a world of change. And Lally Cadeau, riveting in the role, is anything but simple-minded in conveying the
possibilities in a fierce, humourlessly funny and memorable performance that snaps off consonants like a tiger catching a raw sparerib mid-air. Fuelled
by a double sense of grievance about the Church's male hierarchy and an unwavering authoritarian view of education, Cadeau gives us a character who makes
intuition, unsubstantiated suspicion, the craving to have one's worst suspicions confirmed and the appetite for revenge into moral vigilance.”
Nicholls and I did see the same play, didn’t we? There were crows and storms, symbolic, I guess. But the deep experience escaped me completely.
All of it puts me in mind of the afternoons when I sit in my counselling chair, listening to clients whose world view befuddles me. For them I have felt great compassion. Thinking of them I have written about “the Alien Effect” the isolation and hopelessness that sets in when you see the world one way and others simply do not see it. And now, when I witness the Alien Effect, I shall ever remember the morning when I read about Doubt, after seeing it the night before, and wondered whether we should get season tickets next year.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

brain changes

The elevator is going up. Inside it are two teen-agers and me. Says one teen-ager to the other, “These pants are so ugly, but they sure are warm!”
Says the other, ”Well, it doesn’t matter what they look like, as long as they are warm.”
I leave the elevator in a state of confusion. Something is wrong with this conversation. If I had a hearing aid, I would definitely check it for evidence of tampering by aliens. If these were the olden days, I would expect a smiling TV host to jump aboard and shout, ”Wendy edey, you’re on Candid Camera!”
But I don’t have a hearing aid, and this is 2009, and these really are teen-agers. And then it comes to me. This overheard conversation is clear undisputable evidence that brain changes can result from prolonged periods of almost freezing to death in March when spring ought to be coming!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

FUTURE PERSPECTIVE

Isn’t it surprising how way leads on to way? Last week the Hope Foundation got a call from the Guelph Mercury, the newspaper in Guelph Ontario. Joanne Shuttleworth had been contemplating hope when she found us on the web. Later, reading the article she wrote, (see below) I found myself remembering a day in 1993. It was graduation day at Central High, my old high school in Sedgewick Alberta. My nephew Todd was graduating and I had been invited to give the guest address. I recall how I worried about that address. You see, the economy was in a slump. The oil patch was pulling back. There was a worldwide recession of sorts. The Gulf War had recently ended. I wasn’t a hopey in those days. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of the Hope Foundation yet. But I was aware nonetheless of an abiding fear of the future, aware of it, yet not quite able to put it into appropriate words for a graduation address.
The ceremony began and I waited for my turn, watching expectantly for signs of pessimism. There were none. This, it appeared, was a grad just like every other grad. The students were leaving high school and going on to something new. Where, I wondered is the fear, the dread, the sense of impending doom? I waited and waited. But no doom came to call. In the end, after all, it was a grad like any graduation ceremony followed by a dance. Everybody, young and old, got up on the dance floor. So I danced.

The Guelph Mercury

(2009-03-09)
Joanne Shuttleworth

When the going gets tough, the tough, er, keep hoping

Two months after my husband and I split up, the small community paper I was working at part-time folded.

It was a brutal, sad day, and I thought, well now I won't even make the $50 a week I was earning.

It didn't take long to deplete the bank account and while I diligently sent out resumés and applied for any job that remotely involved writing -- the only
practical skill I had -- the bills mounted on the kitchen table.

I never questioned my decision to end the marriage -- at least not once I made up my mind. But I did wish I had thought this one through.

At least I could have planned the money better, I thought. If I had hung in another six months, I could have patched the leaky ceiling and fixed the car
before going it alone.

But there I was trying to figure out how to pay for these repairs, plus all the regular expenses that come with home ownership and single parenthood.

The kids had to tighten their belts too, and for that I was sorry. I made them choose just one activity and give up the rest. I pared down the grocery bill.
We didn't go out much and allowance disappeared.

Although I believed that in the long-term we would all benefit, in those dark days I was overwhelmed with guilt and worry that my decision was throwing
my kids into poverty. This was my choice, not theirs, yet they were deeply affected.

Then out of the blue, my daughter, who was 11 at the time, said something that fortified my resolve and, as is often the case with kids, taught me a another
lesson in life.

"You know what?" she said. It was a statement more than a question. "This is good for me."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, you're going after your dream, and you're showing me how to do it."

My jaw dropped. I could have kissed her. I'm sure I did.

That's what you're getting from this? A positive life lesson despite evidence to the contrary?

She didn't realize how much her words helped me. We've talked about it since and Laura doesn't really remember the conversation.

But she does remember the sentiment -- that something good will come out of hardship if we just hang in long enough, and together enough.

I've been thinking about that story since speaking Wendy Edie, director of counselling at the Hope Foundation of Alberta, an agency connected to the University
of Alberta, which does research on the physical and emotional benefits of hope.

Just as laughter can be infectious, negative feelings can spread too, Edie told me. Get one Debbie Downer in the batch and pretty soon the air is thick
with it.

"Each person has their own personal experience of hope," she told me. "We don't notice hope in good times. But when times are uncertain, nothing sucks away
hope more than fear."

Edie said her agency, once maligned for studying something as "intangible" as hope, is gaining traction as more and more people are facing uncertain futures.
Lost investments and lost jobs have most of us searching for reasons to be hopeful.

Edie said when she thinks of the stories her mother told about growing up during the Great Depression, it wasn't the hardships that stuck with her.

"She probably told me how bad it was, but what I remember is how resourceful people were, and how they helped each other out."

For those struggling to remain positive, Edie says we should try to focus on what we're doing now that we'll be proud of later.

Talk about reasons to be hopeful, especially with your kids.

U.S. President Barack Obama talks a lot about hope and that bodes well for us all, Edie said.

"I put his speeches up on our website," she said. "When he talks to the people about our hopes, it's really about our future. And we do have a future."


Here's hoping.

Mercury reporter Joanne Shuttleworth can be reached at jshuttleworth@guelphmercury.com.

Joanne Shuttleworth

Friday, March 06, 2009

WATCHES AND CHICKEN FEET

My mother used to talk about past times when the future was uncertain and money was short. Even though I gave her little attention at the time, not yet having discovered the joys of story-gathering, I still remember her basic themes. ”Times were hard but we were resourceful. People helped each other out.” She told the stories with passion, with pride, with a fond remembrance. That’s what I recall.
Though I have given Mom’s stories little thought, they now come back to me, riding the wave of current interest in hope as a relevant companion during economic chaos and shrinkage. It’s not the difficult content that comes to me, though I do recall the one and only occasion when she used her best culinary skill to prepare a tasty batch of chicken feet and taught me how to squeeze the meat out of the toes.
”Chicken feet were a treat for us,” she told me. ”We didn’t have much to eat.”
Now that I am remembering, I also recall the tiny elegant watch on a slim silver band that lasted her more than fifty years. “I knitted a very fancy sweater for a man who had been jilted by his fiancĂ©,” she told me. ”He had bought this watch for her and now he had no use for it. It was very expensive, completely out of my range. I couldn’t buy it from him, but he was happy to trade it to me for a hand-knit sweater.”
I had no context in which to understand these stories when first she told them to me. She probably thought I had not heard. They may have been vaguely interesting, but certainly had no relevance. We had money for watches and there was no reason why a person with unlimited access to chicken legs and thighs would bother with chicken’s feet.
I think she’d be pleased to know that the themes came back to me, followed by the content, just when I needed evidence to support the theory that hope abides when wealth is threatened.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

ON BEING INTERVIEWED ABOUT HOPE

For as long as there has been a Hope Foundation, there has been a relationship with the media. Considering what a small organization we are, it is gratifying that reporters have always been interested in the Hope Foundation. Publicity is good for the field of hope studies, and it is good for our programs. It helps us raise money. It attracts the attention of people who could use our help. And then there is the downside. To put it simply, being interviewed about hope tends to be a very stressful experience.
They say there is nothing quite as predictable as change. It’s a point I might have argued with in the past. I would have said, “Oh yeah? The experience of being interviewed never changes.” For that is how it seemed to me. But even that is changing.
Reporters just aren’t doing it the way they used to. Out in search of an informed comment on the topic of hope, they used to launch conversations on a largely predictable platform. The reporter would say something like, “How can you study something as intangible as hope?”
That, I learned, after many false starts, was the exact point where the conversation I had hoped to have would start to go off the rails. The conversation I hoped to have would make the point that hope is important because hope influences action. But instead of having that conversation, I would find myself in a sparring match. Boiled down to the basics, it would go something like this.
Reporter: “Hope is intangible.”
Me: “No it’s not.”
Reporter: “Yes it is.”
Me: “Really, it’s not.”
Reporter: “Give me some facts to prove that it’s not.”
And there I’d be, with nothing to say. Never mind that I was sitting not fifty feet from a whole library of hope research. Every fact I ever knew would vanish into thin air.
“Tell me,” the reporter would say softly, wanting to fill the silence, “tell me about one person whose life was saved by hope.”
And there I’d be, sitting in a roomful of confidential files, searching frantically for the name of somebody who would be willing to talk to this reporter. It’s hard to find people who want to talk to reporters.
Lacking a person whose life had been saved by hope, the reporter would have to settle for a conversation with me. We would have a talk, though rarely the one I had been hoping for. The conversation I had hoped for would have given me time to say that hope increases the likelihood that we will take an action that will lead us to something we want. It expands the repertoire of things we are willing to try. It improves the chance that we will be willing to try something else when something we attempt is less than rewarding. People are more flexible, more daring, more resilient when they are guided by hope. These are simple concepts, the rules for my life and work. But somehow they never came out quite that clearly.
Now things are changing. More to the point, current circumstances are changing the way reporters approach the topic of hope. They used to approach it gingerly, distantly, technically, the way the medical research approached it. Hope was associated with the lack of cures for scary things like cancer, or learning to use a wheelchair if you lost your legs in a bomb blast. To complicate things further, hope doesn’t mean much to you until you apply it to the context of your own life. This would cause a problem because most reporters are expected to write about things other than themselves.
What’s different now is that we—reporters and people being interviewed--have more in common than we used to. All of us—even the most positive thinkers, even those with giraffe necks buried ten feet deep in sand—yes all of us are living together in the fear and uncertainty brought upon us by the economic meltdown. This, I think, is the circumstance that is bringing about the change in the way reporters interview about hope. Hope—when you boil it down to the essentials—is not the least bit intangible. Above all else it is a feeling, a feeling that gets a lot more tangible when you try to summon it in the face of real human fear and uncertainty. These days we’re all facing the same fear and uncertainty. Like cancer patients at the doctor’s office we are turning to experts, to bankers and economists and government officials, turning to experts for a cure. It is terribly disorienting to find our experts falling to their knees, humbled to admit that they don’t know how to fix it. No wonder so many of us feel the need for hope and go in search of it.
These days reporters start conversations from a different platform. Hope is no longer intangible to them. What’s more, the conversation can be personally felt by the reporter even if it isn’t specifically about the reporter. It can be about any of us or all of us. It can begin with the understanding that hope is both tangible and important. It can go on from there.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

THE CART IN THE RIVER

So here’s a story about how a seemingly impossible thing can get done if you keep your mind on it, and here also is a story about the difference that getting that thing done can make.
Kevin Jones is the guest speaker in my hope class. He is telling the eager students about his hope study and service projects with kids. The kids were learning about hope, focusing their attention on things that could make the world better. They talked about a shopping cart in the river. They wanted to get it out of there. They didn’t know how to make that happen. The hope project is supported by a local Rotary Club and the Rotarians were invited to breakfast with the kids. One of the kids told some Rotarians about the cart in the river. The Rotarians got a boat and extracted it on that very day. This is really a great story. The class loves it. We think it is finished.
And then one of the students says, “I used to look down at that cart in the river and wonder how it could be taken out. Then one day it was gone. Now I know how it happened.”

Sunday, March 01, 2009

SHARING

I could get cynical about the world when I read that bankers like Fred Goodwin, former president of the Royal Bank of Scotland has decided to take an unbelievably enormous pension from the British public even though he mismanaged the bank. He’s only fifty and the pension is for life. He says he earned it. Stories like this one could start me believing that there is no hope for the world, no hope for sharing or caring or simple human decency.
Good thing I live with a man who said, “It looks like this recession is going to be really serious. We’ll just have to help each other out.”
He didn’t mean the government will have to do something. He didn’t mean the rich people will have to be brought to their knees. He meant us, him and me using resources we had imagined would go to luxuries for ourselves. And there it was, undisputable evidence of a world worth living in. It was one of those moments that reaffirms the rightness of my decision to marry this man