Thursday, December 30, 2010


This morning I introduced myself to the new coffee maker on the counter. “Hello,” I said coolly. “You look familiar. If it weren’t for that swanky little clock near your base, I’d say you were identical to the last two coffee pots that sat in your place.”
“And who are you?” she asked hotly, burbling out the last few drops. I suppose she had a right to be a bit huffy, given my tactless reference to her predecessors. What she doesn’t know is that there have been at least a dozen others I didn’t mention.
“I’m Microwave,” I answered loftily from my perch on the shelf beside the fridge. And then a little sorry for my rudeness, I added in what I hoped was a friendlier tone, “If you need to know anything, just ask. I’ve been with the family since 1978.”
“1978!” she gasped. “Thirty-two years ago? Well, I guess that explains why you don’t look much like a microwave.”
That set me back a bit. I guess I’d been expecting a reaction that was a bit more respectful. I’m a bit sensitive about my appearance.
I’ve been meeting a lot of new appliances lately. Yesterday I introduced myself to the latest vacuum while it waited for David to clear a corner so it could be stowed in the broom closet. It’s one of those sleek models on wheels with a retractable cord and a host of convenient on-board tools and accessories. “I’ve heard you have an extra motor attachment for stairs,” I said, in a more or less sincere attempt at flattery. “I hope you’ll like the broom closet. I’ve never been in there. I don’t expect the view’s too great. That’s one advantage we microwaves have. They usually offer us a view. I followed this family into three kitchens and the view got better each time. In this house I face a window lined with orchids.”
“Three houses,” said the vacuum. “You must be really old then. That probably explains why you don’t look much like a microwave. Where’s your Popcorn setting anyway? And how did you get so big? Are you on steroids?” That’s the last I heard before David shut the door. Not soon enough, I’d say.
You’ll understand if I’m a bit testy these days. December’s been a bad month for appliances. Coffee Pot was the latest casualty—gave up with most of the water still in the reservoir and one cup dripped through—worst cup of coffee ever, according to the unfortunate Mark who came bleary-eyed to the kitchen hoping for a rich dark roast. The vacuum went up in smoke the previous day. Before that it was the dishwasher—gave up changing cycles 45 minutes into a load, its bottom half full of water that smelled a little worse every day for the two weeks it sat there waiting for a nice young man named Elijah to conclude that even a promise of $600.00 for parts and labour would likely not drain the swamp and get it going again. That was only the beginning of the drama. I watched sympathetically while Wendy ladelled the water out with a teacup. I thanked my lucky stars for my shelf during the flood of scalding water that surged across the kitchen and into the basement during the installation of the replacement. Oh, I could write a book about the goings-on I’ve seen in my day.
I’m hoping you’ll understand if I worry a bit about my own future. I am, after all, a lot bigger than the average microwave. I was born in the day when you bought a microwave that could hold a 20-pound turkey, just in case you’d ever cook a 20-pound turkey in a microwave. Has anybody ever done that? I was born at a time when popcorn was popped in electric frying pans or popcorn poppers. I was born in the day when a microwave oven could proudly sport a stylish coat of push buttons, right down the front.
It’s the buttons that keep me here, I’ve heard them say. They say it whenever they mention that I’m really too big for my current shelf. They say it when people ask if a microwave my age can possibly be safe. They explain that Wendy loves to push my buttons. Those flat-fronted models with their fancy digital read-outs for a million different purposes are useless for blind people.
I’ve heard them say they’ll likely stick with me until the end. And that’s encouraging, given that I’m the oldest appliance I’ve ever met. So far the signs are all good. Last night they popped corn in the popper on the stove. Last week they cooked a 13-pound turkey in the oven. For my part, I did what I could to make their Christmas merry. I cooked the peas and warmed the leftovers. I melted the butter for baking. I heated their coffee to scalding after they added the eggnog. And I greeted all the new appliances as kindly as I could—honestly I did.

Thursday, December 23, 2010



Nearly 60 per cent of patients with irritable bowel syndrome reported they felt better after knowingly taking placebos twice a day, compared to 35 per cent
of patients who did not get any new treatment, they report in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE.

"Not only did we make it absolutely clear that these pills had no active ingredient and were made from inert substances, but we actually had 'placebo' printed
on the bottle," Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, who led the study, said in a statement.

Just one more reason why I love working in positive psychology!!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming
Arranged in 1609, written some time before that
Sung this week as in years past
In languages of many peoples
By lucky choristers like me
Moving parts in choirs large and small

Who says beautiful things can’t last forever?

Lo How A Rose

Monday, December 20, 2010


If I’ve said it once in my adult Decembers I’ve said it a hundred times: “I’d like to see Miracle On 34th Street, the old version I watched as a kid.” And every year the TV would show umpteen versions of the Christmas Carol, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeers, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Home Alone—you get my drift. Every year somebody would say: “Oh yes, that movie comes on every Christmas.,” and one time I started to watch it, but it wasn’t the old version I remembered so I wandered off to write a letter.
Yesterday I popped in to say something to Mark and Tracey. Tracey was decorating the tree and watching White Christmas. “Oh,” I cried, “White Christmas!”
“How do you know that?” Mark asked, turning from the computer where he was playing a game of some sort.
“Because I see it every Christmas when I’m looking for Miracle On 34th Street.”
“I have Miracle on 34th Street,” said Tracey. “I watch it every year.” Now here is something. How could I have missed this last year? This was Tracey’s second Christmas with Mark. Did she have my movie in this house last year? Yes, she did.
And so it came to pass that last night, after we got home from the Christmas story concert, I went to the family room, pushed back the recliner, and settled down with David to watch Miracle on 34th Street, the old version with colour added, only I can’t tell colour TV from black and white, so the modernization effect did not trouble me. And there they were the scenes I remembered from—how many decades has it been? The child whose practical mother taught her not to believe, the handsome hero who loved her mother, the Santa Claus who revolutionized department store Santa business, the trial for mental incompetence, and finally, oh finally, the new house for Christmas when all signs pointed to the fact that there would be no new house, hence no reason to truly believe. And there, in the new house, as David pointed out, was the cane that the old Santa carried.
Bless David. The evening was wearing on, but he had managed to stay awake to tell me the ending. It’s a terrible frustration for blind movie-watchers, this stuff on the screen that only sighted people get. You can faithfully watch a whole movie alone and then not know how it ends.
I’d forgotten the end of this movie, though I didn’t remember I’d forgotten until we got there. I had known the ending because my mother told it to me. She told it in wonder, the way David told it, the way Doris and Fred experienced it in the movie. We were sitting at the kitchen table still piled high with dinner dishes—dinner on the farm was eaten at midday. Soup remains grew dry on the bowls, the crackers lay in their wrapping. Mom had reached over to cover the cheese. The kitchen table was strategically placed for a clear view into the living room. We could watch TV from the table. This was the afternoon movie. We must have accidentally got interested. We would never have planned to watch it together. We didn’t watch movies together. We always did the dishes after dinner in those days. But this was Christmas. Even though we were busy, there was extra time.
In this memory my mother, the kitchen and the movie are all perfectly focused, every detail as I knew it then has replaced our family room.
As David and I watch this old movie my own children, now adults, move around the house. Every so often a head pops in, sees that we are watching, and pops back out to pursue its own pursuits. These are my children, living the days of early adulthood when the memories of childhood go into hiding, stored away for future surprise. And I wonder, in a few decades, what small happenings, small as the cane at the end of their movie, will take them back with absolute clarity to a treasured time spent with us that they didn’t even know they were noticing.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


The Hope Foundation is looking for chronic pain sufferers who would like to participate in a research project. Our goal is to understand more about the effects of group activities that build hope and inner strength. We need participants who are willing to attend six two-hour activity sessions and watch a videotape of session 3 with a researcher who will ask questions about the process.
The group process we are studying is designed to address a number of psychological conditions that commonly occur when people suffer chronic pain. They become discouraged and depressed when their pain continues after they have sought treatment. They tire of asking for assistance. They lose confidence in their ability to make good judgments. Increasingly limited by the pain, they stay home and become isolated. As time passes they stop seeking remedies, socializing with friends, participating in activities they previously enjoyed. They stop looking forward to the future. In short, as they come to accept their pain as chronic, they lose touch with the picture of themselves as hopeful people with personal strengths and resources.
Researchers have long maintained that hopeful, strong, resourceful people are the most able to cope with life’s challenges. Since its beginnings in 1992, the Hope foundation has been developing group programs that bring people together to learn from each other in a positive, hopeful way. You can find the brochure about our program at BEING HOPEFUL IN THE FACE OF CHRONIC PAINYou might know somebody could benefit from this program. Please share this information with them.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Just when you think you’ve learned everything, somenew discovery comes along to confound you. Yesterday’s discovery was indeed extraordinary. During a process of deep contemplation, Rachel and I identified and labelled a rapidly growing phenomena, the Freudian Click.
Freudian Clicks are increasingly the subject of conversations with counsellors. The Freudian Click is what happens when you channel your frustration into an angry note blaming your boss for all your troubles, and then push Send instead of Cancel. The Freudian Click is what happens when you flirt with an on-line purchase, and suddenly you’re expecting delivery of a bright red sports car. The Freudian Click is what happens when you get one of those warnings: YOU HAVE MADE CHANGES THAT MAY CAUSE PROGRAMS ON YOUR COMPUTER TO FAIL, and you push OK. Well, there wasn’t any button that said THINK IT OVER AND GET BACK TO ME!
And as for the results of the Freudian Click—they are mixed. Some angry senders have no doubt been fired. The economy has been bolstered by some purchases. And as for computers, well the people who are really going to ruin your computer don’t generally put warnings in their programs, and computers don’t last forever anyway. The Freudian Click is like the Freudian Slip—an adventure, an experiment, one more gift given to the world by Freud.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Thanks to our knowledgeable Hope Kids volunteer Joelle Reiniger, and my intrepid colleague Rachel stege—one of the few truly modern women who is social networking savvy even though she does not own a cell phone--the Hope Foundation has now joined the world of social media! This means we will be able to post notices about important happenings such as our upcoming hope and strengths groups for people with chronic pain, our Christmas open house, and all the events that will accompany Hope Week when it rolls around on January 31. We invite you to get connected:

• “Like” us on Facebook (

• Follow “HopeFdnAlberta “ on Twitter (

Please show your support by including the Hope Foundation in your own social networking – We encourage you to pass this information to your friends and
colleagues or anyone who would be interested in the work of the Hope Foundation.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I asked Lawrence what I should say about him in the Christmas letter. I truly was looking for advice. Yesterday I’d sat down to write, and finding that I couldn’t, I’d looked back at the 2010 edition of THE HOPE LADY Blog. Reading between the lines of what was recorded there I could pretty much piece the year together. A lot had been written about the wedding that consumed so much of our attention. There were some health references, some holiday references, some seeds of stories I’d told on stages, some small musings about hope. “That ought to be enough to get me started,” I said to myself. But it wasn’t. I wrote half a page and deleted it.
Wondering what to write in the Christmas letter is an annual event for me. It happens every year at the same time—a few days after mid-November. I always begin in the same place—begin by trying to envision the reading audience. The way I figure it, the recipients of our Christmas letter fall into two categories: people who keep up with our news and don’t learn anything new from it, and people who are so distant from our daily lives that they have no idea what goes on with us in any given year. There are people on that list who last saw us before the birth of our kids, readers who might not even recognize us if we met on the street. To write something that meets the needs of this combination is an impossible thing. Every year I give serious consideration to cancelling the letter, and then I remember how much I like getting Christmas letters. I recall that I even like getting them from people whose news I already know, and from others whose news I care little about. I went through this process yesterday, and decided to write a letter after all. It’s a decision I reach every year.
“What shall I write about you in our Christmas letter?” I said to Lawrence. Even as I said it, I was expecting to be rebuffed, and rightly so. I really ought to be able to write a Christmas letter without writing about my children. After all, they are grown, and if they want things said about them, they can very well speak for themselves. Surely, at this point, David and I have a life to write about. But then I remembered the letters I wrote when we first got married. In those days I would put down some things about us, and then some things about our parents. I don’t usually write about the parents now. Sometimes I try, but it makes the letters too long, once the info about the kids has been included. I guess I’ve never been able to write a Christmas letter without making reference to the important people in my life. Why start now?
I had especially been wondering what to write about Lawrence. He’s had a nasty little year—what with being under-employed, and getting cancer and having his car destroyed by a drunk driver. It’s always hard to figure out how to handle nastiness in a Christmas letter. I have read some very sad Christmas letters from some very sad people. I don’t begrudge them their sadness, and I definitely think that if they want to write about that, the least I can do is read their writing and feel the sadness they feel. That said, it’s not my way to write sadly about sad things. I know that many people find a lot of comfort in writing their sadness and anger, but writing mine never seems to help me much. I like my Christmas letter to be a letter I’d want to read.
Yesterday, when I had faced the fact that I wasn’t writing the Christmas letter, I went on line to look up an article about one of my heroes, Stuart McLean. McLean writes for the spoken word in a style that would characterize my Christmas letter if I were a better writer. He writes family stories with happy endings. When he reads his work aloud, his listeners laugh, and sometimes they cry. McLean is accused of being sentimental and cheesy. I love him because of it.
This particular profile by Jeet Heer is called Mr. Nice Guy. Heer writes:
“When McLean was a boy in Montreal, he had the unusual habit of pretending to be a preacher, delivering ad hoc sermons to his parents’ friends. In a way, he remains a frockless clergyman, a parson in the guise of a popular entertainer. He is a deeply religious writer, but not in any narrow, sectarian sense.
Rather, he articulates an unshorn natural piety that even unbelievers can accept. At the heart of all religion lies a feeling of gratitude for the simple and mysterious fact that we exist, that for reasons unknown to us we’ve been brought into this world and allowed to enjoy fellowship and earthly pleasures.
It is perhaps no accident that his show airs on weekends, traditional days of rest and meditation. A century ago, many Canadians listened to homilies in church on Sundays, a practice some still follow. But now we can stay at home and hear secular sermons on CBC.”
Heer doesn’t tell us whether McLean is happy with the idea that his stories are being compared to sermons. I know I definitely don’t want my Christmas letter to be a sermon. I have to accept that it may, or may not be entertaining to everyone who reads it. But I do want it to record and organize our experience in a manner that leaves me with some hope that I can take into the new year. Maybe that’s why I’ve asked Lawrence what I ought to write. Maybe I’m giving him the chance to give me the hope, why I’m willing to risk taking the chance that he won’t.
He says, “Tell them that people who beat cancer get a gold car.”
“Okay,” I say.
Sitting at the computer I jot: Lawrence got a new car this year. His old Malibu has been replaced by a gold Sebring with only 50,000 KM. His Malibu was written off aftr it was hit by a drunk driver who careened down our street just after midnight on a warm June Saturday. Fortunately Lawrence wasn’t in the car when it was struck. He was at home, recovering after cancer surgery. He heard the crash and called to his brother. Three neighbours heard it also. All of them ran outside. The driver tried to escape, but the four healthy men cornered him and held him until the police arrived.
And here, I think, are the seeds of something you might find in a sermon. There’s suffering and there’s injustice. To balance all of this, there’s family loyalty and neighbours helping one another. There’s a sense of getting through bad times and moving on. There’s hope to take into a new year. Maybe there’s even something I’d like to read in a Christmas letter.

Friday, November 19, 2010


If I had given any serious thought to it, I might have realized that my own life would grow when my children acquired spouses. But I don’t think I ever thought of that. I thought only of adding them to our family—of integrating them in. Such a narrow view considering how many options for growth there really are.
Last week Derek took us to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. The Fair is and has been a feature of his life—the place where he showed 4H calves in his youth, the way 4H calves are shown by youth at so many other fairs. That outing was a high point in the second mother-in-law visit.
It certainly wasn’t the first ag fair we’ve ever attended. We have been seen on a more or less regular basis at the Lougheed and District agricultural Fair, an annual highlight in a village with a population that hovers around 200, not including the district. But this urban ag extravaganza definitely was the biggest fair we’ve seen, not necessarily too surprising, given that the Greater Toronto Area reports a population of 5,555,912, including very few farmers. The farmers, like us, came in from out of town, and the townspeople came in from in. Oh yes, unlike the Lougheed Fair, this fair is an inside fair. Even though our day dawned crisp and bright, you’d probably never get that many people out to look upon livestock in a Toronto November.
There’s a lot to do at a fair that big, a lot we did not do. How much can you do in a single day? We drifted through the halls and barns as the hours drifted by. We lunched on lamburgers and Ukrainian pyroghy platters. We cheered for our side at the dog show, stepped off the path to give right-of-way to Holsteins with extended udders followed by bucket-bearing sanitary attendants,, watched a beauty contest where fancily dressed ladies led fancily dressed sheep, and learned about the horse breeding that produces creamy cremellos and smooth-riding paso finos. We saw 15-pound carrots, 20-pound parsnips, 60-pound beets and a pumpkin that claimed to weigh in at 1,177. We stood within arm’s reach at the edge of a practice ring where six-horse teams of giant draught horses clattered their shoes and pawed the air as they pulled their wagons. A maple syrup producer told us that you get a litre of syrup from the average maple tree. To get this syrup, you boil off 39 litres of water that is captured, clear and clean, then used to sterilize the equipment. You have to get the sap before the tree comes into bud. You have to have the right weather for that. Farming maple trees is like farming prairie grains in that way. You don’t control the weather. As evening advanced and we prepared to leave, a surprising thing happened. People in tuxedos and ball gowns came strolling in the blue-jeaned crowd. They had dressed up for the evening horse show. As far as I know, no tuxedos have ever been seen at the Lougheed Fair. Derek’s father took us out to dinner. It was late. We were hungry. And then it was after 10:30, time to leave the city.
The car was warm, quiet and dark. The younger generation did the driving.
Ruth said it was a funny thing to sit alert in the front seat after a long day out while your parents dozed off in the back. A new and interesting entry on the family page of life.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Sometimes an hour can feel like a day. I remember this from a time way-back-when when I clumsily stumbled through a transition from extremely busy to unemployed, while David plunged into work. He was busy, I was not. I had nothing to do. My worst moment was that time when he would say, ”What did you do today?”
Sometimes a year can seem like a day. Where does time go when your babies are small? Do I even finish one birthday cake before beginning the next? Somebody recently told me that life is like a roll of toilet paper. It goes faster at the end.
Time is a relative thing. Tomorrow is November 11, and I, as always, will remember my childhood, a time when I knew nothing about war, a time when all our school activities ground to a halt so that we could observe 2 minutes of silence at 11:00. ”It is only 2 minutes,”the teacher told a class of 6-year-olds. ”I am sure you can be quiet for that long.”
We couldn’t, not really quiet at the age of 6. But in later years my mind’s ear would hear her voice and compel me to silence. I’d be quiet for 2 minutes in a store, quiet for 2 minutes in my kitchen. I still didn’t relate to war on a personal level, don’t yet for that matter. But 2 minutes of silence seems a small sacrifice for me.
So here’s a problem. Tomorrow morning at 7:00 I am boarding a plane for Toronto. The flight will last three and a half hours, landing at 10:30 Edmonton time, 12:30 toronto time.
“When will it be 11:00?” I ask David. It’s 6:30 AM and he is brushing his teeth. Bad timing for such an important conversation. But I simply have to have an answer.
“some time,”he blurbles when I’ve asked it twice. “At some point we’ll be flying over 11:00.”
Sounds right for a minute. But is it? I mean, we spend 5 and a half hours in 3 and a half. If we spread it all out, does 2 minutes become 1 and a quarter just so we can get it all in? Oh I suppose there are practical solutions. We could set our watches for 9:00 when the plane takes off at 7:00 and declare 11:00 when our watches say 11:00. Where will we be? Somewhere over Thunder bay, Maybe and will it be 11:00 there? What if we’re still on central time at the point and it’s only 10:00?
So many problems, so little time to solve them. And still, 2 minutes is a small sacrifice to make.

Monday, November 08, 2010


And pirate the dog, recalling one walk on Thursday (you always get one walk a day), having enjoyed an amazing total of two walks on Friday (because the weather was so nice and you seemed to have forgotten that you’d already had one walk), followed by an unprecedented three walks on Saturday (nobody knows for sure how you got three walks on Saturday), is still puzzling over the unmet expectations of Sunday. When asked about the situation he would only say, ”I cannot understand why they rejected the four-walk proposal. It was almost as if they didn’t think dogs count.”

Saturday, November 06, 2010


There are a few good excuses to explain why THE HOPE LADY has been neglecting her blogging lately. I’ll not bore you with the worst of them. You wouldn’t believe me anyway. The best one of them all is that she has been busy counting sleeps, a skill she learned early in life.
Counting sleeps is something her mother taught her to do when she was a little girl. Her mother was sharp that way. If you’re really looking forward to something, and you ask your mother once too often how long it will be before it comes, she’ll teach you to count sleeps and make you count them on the calendar every time you ask. By the time the thing you are waiting for finally arrives, you’ve learned to count backwards and recite the days of the week.
When THE HOPE LADY was a little girl, she used to count the sleeps until she could have vinegar-soaked French fries at the Hardisty Stampede, the sleeps until Christmas, the sleeps until Aunty came for a visit, the sleeps until school let out for the summer holidays. Every day the number of sleeps got smaller. Oh the excitement!!!
These days THE HOPE LADY is counting the sleeps until she will get to see her little girl. Never mind that her kids hover around the age of 30. Never mind that she is old enough to be their mother. Never mind that two of them are near enough to brighten her life on a daily basis. Never mind that the other one can be reached any day by telephone or email or webcam. She’s counting sleeps anyway, because she can, because she wants to. There are 5 more now. One of them will be a little bit longer than the others—falling back, you know.
“Grow up,” chides her inner critic. “Concentrate on the important things of the present, practising music for tomorrow’s church, getting the laundry done, preparing for the by-laws meeting, gathering your wits for the two new groups starting at the Hope Foundation.”
And THE HOPE LADY tries to grow up. She almost makes it too, but then her little girl phones.
“I was thinking about what we’ll do during your visit. We might buy tickets to hear Mark Kingwell speak on the role of the public intellectual in Canada,” she says, and the way her mother’s heart responds, you’d think she’d offered hot fries from the booth, or fluffy castles of cotton candy on a stick. “It all depends on which day we go to the Royal Winter Fair,” she adds.
“What will we do at the Royal Winter Fair?” THE HOPE LADY asks.
“Look at cows,” she says.
Of course, thinks THE HOPE LADY. That’s what you do when you marry a cow psychologist. It’s a good thing THE HOPE LADY is a farmer’s daughter who can appreciate such things, and she wonders if mothers ever really grow up, or if they simply get better at counting, and learn to make better excuses for not getting around to blogging.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


So I explained the entire situation to Pirate the dog and he said: ”It’s nice that St. Stephen’s College is giving you an honorary doctorate, and now that I’ve heard you practicing your convocation address I can appreciate the need to practice it a few more times, and I understand fully the importance of responding promptly to your email, and it definitely seems logical to me that you should return calls when messages are left for you. I agree that you should eat a bit to settle your stomach, and it does appear that a nap would be in order, seeing as how you hardly slept last night. But now that I’ve listened to you so patiently, could you please explain why I’m having to wait for my walk?”

Saturday, October 30, 2010


And here’s a quote fit for a HOPE LADY

Better Health Is Key To National Health Care Problems

That's the message Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti plans to spread across the country as he begins his two-year presidency of the Royal College, a national
not-for-profit organization based in Ottawa that aims to improve the health of Canadians by maintaining high standards in specialty medical education.

"Health care is such a mess across the country," said Francescutti, who was born in Montreal but now practises emergency medicine and preventive medicine
in Edmonton. "We spend $184 billion a year on health care in Canada and nowhere is it the way it should be."

For starters, he said, people and even health-care providers are brainwashed into thinking that what makes people healthy is health care. He believes that
couldn't be further from the truth.

"What really makes people healthy is literacy, education, strong social support networks and a sense of hope," he said in an interview Thursday from Edmonton.

And THE HOPE LADY asks: How can we turn Dr. Francescutti’s interest toard the practical application of hope?

Friday, October 22, 2010


The Monday evening homeward trek after work is different for me this fall. I am getting home later, stopping off to spend 45 minutes at an Alexander Technique session with Heidi Matter. She’s improving my posture. She’s teaching me how to figure out where my body parts are, and how I might reposition them to get relief from the pain that has been my unwelcome companion for far too long now.
Heidi’s methods are low-pressure, low-impact, low-risk. There are no extravagant promises of miraculous cures. There’s nothing to buy except her time. She stands me up and uses gentle touches at the base of my skull to position my head somewhere directly above the centre of my feet. She sets me to thinking about my head and soon I am stepping forward, propelled by my upper body. She sits me down and rocks me into a standing position. She lays me down and invites my hip and shoulder muscles to let go. “You don’t have to do anything,” she says. And so I don’t do much. My job is to follow the direction from her gentle movements.
You might seek out an Alexander teacher if you wanted to project your voice better, or sing with less strain, or stand and walk with more grace. You might seek an Alexander teacher if—like me—you had back pain. There’s nothing you have to do except show up, and how often you do that is totally optional. Like me, you might find some definite help in it, something you haven’t found elsewhere. But you probably wouldn’t seek an Alexander teacher, because you wouldn’t know you were looking for one.
There are Alexander teachers all over the world. The first was Frederick Matthias Alexander, an Australian actor who lost his voice and eventually regained it by teaching himself to reduce muscle tension. He taught his strategies to others and died in 1955. I discovered the Alexander Technique at the 2010 conference of the National Storytelling Network in Los Angeles. I went to a session on voice projection without knowing what I was going to and was amazed to find that I had accidentally stumbled upon the posture training I had been looking for. When the workshop ended I boldly walked to the front of the room and approached the teacher in a manner I knew to be totally inappropriate.
“I have back pain,” I said. “It hurts right here. Doctors and physiotherapists keep telling me to improve my posture, but when I ask them how, they don’t seem to have any suggestions that help me. They say to stand straight and I don’t think I even know whether I’m standing straight.”
“Okay,” she said calmly, as if we were the only people in the room and no other session was about to start. “Just bend your knees a little, and now lean forward a bit.” She had placed a hand on my lower back and was gently pressing forward. “Now,” she said, “we are going to move your head.” Two firm but gentle fingers were now lifting and pushing at the base of my skull.
The position she put me in was definitely unfamiliar, yet stable. “You haven’t been using some of these muscles for a while,” she said. Maybe not. The pain inflicted on my leg by my compressed disks after three days of conference sitting was not entirely gone, but I could feel the difference and it was good. David said maybe we should book time off work so I could take training in Los Angeles.
“I’ve never heard of Edmonton,” she said when we told her where we came from. “But if you look on the Internet, you might find a teacher there.” That’s how we found Heidi.
Heidi is one of three certified Alexander teachers in Edmonton. She works six hours a week, and those hours are not entirely full. I find that surprising, knowing how much she has helped me, knowing also how many Edmontonians are tortured by chronic back pain. “Why are you not busier?” I ask Heidi.
“The Alexander Technique is not well known here,” she says. That—I’ll say—is an understatement. But here’s the really surprising thing. Doctors and physiotherapists don’t seem much interested in learning about it either. It’s not that they know about it and think it’s bad, it’s just that they are indifferent, dismissive when I mention it.
I visit a doctor who has worked steadily and earnestly with my back pain for five long years. He has prescribed medications and changed them in favour of others that promised a better result. He has sent me to physio, and recommended that I find a new therapist when I was clearly not benefiting from the therapy. We’ve traced the deterioration through x-rays, bone scans and MRI. We’ve discussed the risks and benefits of surgery. He’s a good man, concerned and committed to making things better. I approach him knowing how happy he will be.
“I’ve found a good thing last summer,” I tell him in early October. “It’s the Alexander Technique. It’s posture training. I’d say it’s helped more than any of the physiotherapy I’ve had. It actually makes me feel better and not worse.”
I am excited to share this information, hoping he will recommend it to others, or at least think about doing so. But if he does, it will surprise me, because he doesn’t ask me any questions, doesn’t take any phone numbers down. “The name sounds familiar,” he says, moving on.
Back in Heidi’s office I say, “I’m well now, but Thanksgiving was the worst pain day I’ve had in a long time. It all started the day before with doing everything I know I shouldn’t do. I slept late and didn’t give myself time for a morning walk. Then I went to church and sat on the piano bench for far too long. Piano playing in the morning is a really hard thing. Then, without taking time for a walk, I got into the car for a three hour trip.”
As I continue on with my list of wrongs, Heidi is positioning a wooden chair in the middle of the floor and sitting me on it. “How high is the piano bench?” she asks, adjusting to the right height with a cushion. She positions a book under my foot where the sustain pedal would be and tells me to raise my arms and pretend to play. As if on cue, piano music replaces the flute solo that was drifting softly from the speaker in the wall.
As I hunch forward playing my imaginary piano she gently presses on my back, positions my shoulders, and touches the base of my skull, suggesting the direction my body ought to lean the next time I am feeling the pain when I play the piano.
“You think I’m going to remember all this and play the right notes too?” I ask her.
She says, “You don’t have to remember it. There’s nothing you have to do. You just let everything lengthen.” From experience with other things she has taught me I know what will happen. I’ll be sitting on the bench and feeling the pain, and then my body will remember Heidi’s small pressures and start to move in the directions she would have been giving if she were in the room.
Oh so relieved to have found such a low-tech, simple and practical approach, I tell David that I’m going to make Heidi famous. The only problem is, I really don’t know how. After all, here I am, a hope counsellor who hasn’t yet figured out how to make hope counselling interesting to doctors and physiotherapists, even though it costs very little and helps people a lot. When I figure out how, Heidi and I might both be rich.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Dan gardner, one of my favourite newspaper columnists, has a new book out: Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail -- and Why We Believe Them Anyway. Newspapers all over the country have been picking up an exerpt from its introduction. You can find one at Often Wrong and Rarely Accurate

Gardner writes: “As for why we believe expert predictions, the answer lies ultimately in our hard-wired aversion to uncertainty. People want to know what's happening now and what will happen in the future, and admitting we don't know can be profoundly disturbing. So we try to eliminate uncertainty however we can. We see patterns where there are none. We treat random results as if they are meaningful. And we treasure stories that replace the complexity and uncertainty of reality with simple narratives about what's happening and what will happen. Sometimes we create these stories ourselves, but, even with the human mind's bountiful capacity for self-delusion, it can be hard to fool ourselves into thinking we know what the future holds for the stock market, the climate, the price of oil, or a thousand other pressing issues. So we look to experts. They must know. They have PhDs, prizes, and offices in major universities. And thanks to the news media's preference for the simple and dramatic, the sort of expert we are likely to hear from is confident and conclusive. They know
what will happen; they are certain of it. We like that because that is how we want to feel. And so we convince ourselves that these wise men and women
can do what wise men and women have never been able to do before. Fundamentally, we believe because we want to believe.”

I read about Gardner’s book and felt the shock of being exposed. He might be one of my favourite columnists, but I hadn’t imagined that he knew me so well. I didn’t think he knew me at all. But what do I know anyway?
Last Thursday I had one of those so-called educational experiences, call it a life lesson in being your own expert and believing what you want to believe. It happened as I made my way to work, around 7:30 AM. I was boarding the LRT, our transit train here in Edmonton.
When you take a train on the LRT you have some choices. There are, in fact, two ends to every station. Depending on what decisions I have made before I take the train, I might enter the station at either the north end, or the south end. If I enter at the north end, the thing I most often do, I will turn right at the bottom of the stairs and catch the train called Century Park. When I enter at the south end, as I did that day, I will turn left at the bottom of the stairs and take the train called Century Park. I can be confusing for anybody, so Edmonton Transit provides clear, loud automated announcements to prepare you for the arrival of your train. These announcements are accurate about 99.9 percent of the time. Nothing could be simpler, really!
I was thinking as I entered the station at the south end. Just what I was thinking I cannot quite recall. I might have been writing a letter in my mind, or planning a lecture, or editing the guest list for a birthday party, or mentally preparing tonight’s supper. I know better than to let my mind go at that hour, but I honestly keep forgetting that in the past few years I’ve pretty much lost my ability to think and travel at the same time. It’s a bit like walking and chewing gum. I have to do one or the other. When I got to the bottom of the stairs I turned right and waited for the train. I had only a few seconds to wait. The announcement came on loud and clear. “Next train, Clareview,” it said. The train pulled up in front of me and I got on.
I was not alone. The platform was busy with people getting off and on. I was already comfortably seated when the door closed. When the door closes, a clearly audible announcement comes on. On my route to work, the announcement usually says, “Next Stop, Central Station.” Automation is an imperfect thing. Sometimes announcements on the train are a little off. When this happens, the driver generally picks up the microphone and appologizes for the computer’s failings. That announcement is accurate about 90% of the time.
As the door closed, the automation said, “Next stop, Stadium Station.”
Comfortably seated, I waited for the driver to make the correction. He didn’t make a correction, but that didn’t bother me. I had forgotten about the letter I might have been writing or the supper I might have been planning. Now I thought about the times when the announcements are wrong. I felt so sorry for the people who believe the announcements when they are wrong. I was happy, content, relaxed in my seat. It wasn’t until the train came out of the ground, halfway to Stadium station, that the light began to dawn. I had entered the station at the south end, I had turned the wrong way. I had ignored the name of the train when it arrived. I had disbelieved the announcement that told me we were on our way to Stadium. And now I was not headed for work at all.
Oh well, I sighed. There is a solution. I stood on the platform at Stadium Station, waiting for the train called Century Park. As I waited I wondered what the day would bring. When I got to the office I discovered that Graham Thompson, another of my favourite newspaper columnists, had published an article about FASD Justice Ministers’ Interest In Finding Solutions For FASD Offers Hope Thompson was quoting an expert—me. He was quoting me accurately. No errors were made. And I’m almost certain that what I said was right.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


My favourite new radio program is Day6 heard Saturdays at 10:00 AM on CBC Radio1. It comes on at a time when I’m not really listening to the radio. The radio is on, and I am doing other things. And yet, suddenly I am listening to day6 and not doing anything else at all, except maybe asking David to hush, or telling Pirate he’ll have to wait another hour if he expects me to join him on a walk.
The thing that draws me in is the light and cheery tone of the show. It’s kind of modern, kind of sassy. It makes me giggle. I am well aware that this is the draw for me. So you can imagine, given this awareness, how surprised I was this morning when I discovered that the features I remember after the fact, the features that make me want to blog about the show, are the serious features. I only discovered this when I sat down to craft a fan letter. You should never under-estimate the power of fan mail. I know the value of fan mail. It impresses your boss, but even more important, it keeps you working hard, at least that’s the effect fan mail has on me. So I wanted to write a good fan letter to the good people who craft Day6, a letter that would name the segments I value. When I’d made the list I read it over. My first thought was: Oh my goodness! They’ll think I’m a serious person. They’ll never even guess that my resume says I specialize in hope and humour.
So here’s the big question: Why, oh why are human beings so complicated??

Friday, October 15, 2010


My friend Scott has been sending me childhood stories lately. What a pleasure it is to read them! Short, vivid and descriptive, they are gentle invitations to a by-gone day. Reading them you can almost believe you are growing up with Scott in the 1950’s.
He’s got me interested in my own memories, few and undescribed as they may be. Still, the older I get, the more of them I seem to have. Go figure! So I am finding memories back there, and I’ve started to notice a few things about them.
There are a couple of kinds of memories, the ones I actually have, and the ones I wish I had. The memories of my real childhood tend to be dull, devoid of the intrigue and adventure craved by a reading world. The memories I wish I had are diverse in nature. In fact, they are quite subject to variation, depending on the context of the present day. On the days when I’m feeling light and cheerful, I wish I’d had a more adventurous childhood—one you could sink your teeth into. Why are there no stories about Wendy breaking an arm in a fall while trying to retrieve a robin’s nest from a sky-high poplar? Where are the tales of a teen-ager sneaking out of the house for romance after the folks had gone to bed? What is the potential entertainment value of a childhood lived out in relative obedience?
On other days, today for example, I wish I had more memories—any memories actually--of me in the role of a compassionate child, a kind child, a supportive child. There are kids like that, you know, and I really want to grow down to be like them.
There’s one such child attending elementary school in Guelph Ontario. I heard the story from my daughter, a substitute teacher—correction—an emergency substitute teacher. In Ontario, you see, they have two kinds of substitute teachers. Substitute teachers have their names on a list and when somebody is unable to teach they get called in. Emergency substitute teachers lurk on shadowy lists that are more mysterious. They are called in when the notice is so short, or the conditions so difficult that no substitute teacher can fill the gap. When it’s time for the second bell, and the teacher is lying delirious on the floor waiting for an ambulance, that’s when you need an emergency sub—one who will take charge with no preparation, no orientation and no lesson plans.
I don’t know if we had emergency substitute teachers when I was a kid. Maybe I’ll recall that later. For now I can only say that I disliked subs of all kinds. My list of complaints against them was lengthy indeed. They failed to follow our established routines. They seldom knew what to do. They didn’t learn our names. They had trouble controlling the class. Sometimes they were idiots and I had the facts to prove it! Once, when we were studying the theories of Freud in a high school psychology class, a sub came in and called him Frude. How outrageous! I fumed at the very idea of paying a salary to such an incompetent!
But time changes perspective. For my daughter, who is now a sub, I have nothing but respect. Imagine getting up in the morning and racing off to teach a class of self-righteous little Wendys. I brace myself to hear the tales she will tell.
Here’s today’s tale. Every classroom has its own features. Her Edmonton room had a telephone for direct calls and an intercom for messages intended for the entire school. Having made a rushed entry into an unfamiliar class, she had not noticed the absence of a telephone when a voice came over the intercom. “Excuse me,” it said. She hushed the children and there they sat, waiting quietly for an announcement to be made. Finally, a child whispered, “You’re supposed to say Hello.”
“Good thing Grade ones and twos are kind,” she writes to her mother.
Her mother says, “Good thing you didn’t have to emergency substitute teach your mother.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I’ve been wondering how research might be different if well people visited doctors and psychologists. Would the doctors and psychologists get curious about the things that make people well? Maybe I’m wondering this because I recently read a speech made 10 years ago by Martin Seligman—one of my favourite positive psychology researchers. In that speech, he was quoting an article that said there were 46,000 articles on depression in the psychology literature, and only 400 articles on joy. I don’t know how the balance has changed in the past ten years, but I’m guessing it’s nowhere near equal yet. Depression, after all is a problem, and problems seem to get a lot of attention.
Then yesterday I came across an article about dogs and optimism Is Your Dog’s Bowl Half Full or Half Empty introducing me to the research done in the UK by Professor Mike Mendl of Bristol University's School of Clinical Veterinary Science. Here is what the article says about dogs and optimism.

“”The animals were taught that when a bowl was placed at one location in
the room, it would contain food - this was the 'positive' position. Meanwhile the animals learnt that a bowl placed at another location (the 'negative'
position) would be empty. Once the dogs had been trained, the scientists placed a bowl in an ambiguous location midway between the positive and negative
Dogs that ran quickly to this bowl, as if they expected it to contain a tasty morsel, were classed as being 'optimistic', while dogs that moved more slowly
towards the bowl were classed as 'pessimistic'.””

Using this measure of doggy optimism, the researchers were able to show that optimistic dogs experienced less anxiety when separated from their owners. Dogs and optimism! Wow, what a combination of interesting findings for a dog-loving HOPE LADY! That got me excited and I just had to share it with somebody. So I sent it to Dr. Derek Haley, my favourite animal behaviour specialist. He wrote:
“”Thanks Mom. Mike (Mendl, the scientist) is a friend and colleague.
They do great and interesting work there at Bristol, about cognitive abilities in animals too. For example, they are doing studies looking at pigs in an
experimental foraging task and trying to figure out whether individuals that have experience in the test arena where food is hidden, and who discover food
there, will later try to deceive other naive animals and lead them away from the food sources so that they can keep the food they have previously discovered,
all to themselves. I always talk to people about Mike's work because it's such basic research, and so interesting. Yet, it's almost impossible to get funding
for such basic research. The pig industry is not clamouring for scientists to uncover what cognitive abilities pigs have. Surprised?””

I guess I’m not surprised. Maybe there are a lot of basic things we don’t study because we take them for granted. We assume that joy is easy to find, so we study depression because it’s hard to shake. We assume that pigs are dumb, so we don’t look for evidence that they are smart. It takes a canny scientist to put effort into studying the behaviour of optimistic and pessimistic dogs.
There was a time when I didn’t see the value of basic research. I thought you shouldn’t waste resources studying things everybody already seems to know. I thought you had to know how to use results before you got them. But now I understand that basic research—because it surprises us--gives us the foundation to wonder things. For example, if 46,000 psychologists had written about joy, we might have a better idea how to create it, because we might have learned something about it that we don’t already think we know. And maybe pigs have a lot to teach us, only we don’t know what to ask them because we haven’t been interested enough to check out the basics of piggy wisdom. As for dogs, well I have a dog, and he checks his dish fairly often, just to see what’s in it. Sometimes it’s empty. Sometimes it’s full. I like to think he’s a hope dog.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


And Audrey’s note says, ”My chemo is working. My liver is looking better. Thought I’d share the good news.”
So here, today, I make myself a promise: that tomorrow morning, when I’m fussing over my hair, and worrying about spill spots on my blouse, I shall take a moment to celebrate the unheralded magnificence of a good-looking liver.

Monday, October 11, 2010


And Mark, looking forward to a 9-week practicum teaching assignment that could conceivably have been limited to the single subject of physical education said: “I hope my supervising teacher teaches something in addition to phys ed.”
Whereupon Mark, who got the news of his assignment, was somewhat surprised to find that his supervising teacher is teaching phys ed, plus biology, plus science, plus physics, plus social studies, all at the high school level.
So Mark, who is rather underconfident in his ability to teach biology, and science, and physics is now anticipating long evenings of class prep as a means of being one step ahead of the students he will be learning how to teach during this stressful time.
Could this be evidence of hope in action?

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Congratulations to you, Liu Xiaobo, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. You won it for suggesting that people should have the right to choose their leaders. A simple concept, really. One that is easily taken for granted by those who have the right to choose. As I understand it, your leaders are saying that there is no need for you to choose. You ought to trust them more.
Here in Edmonton we are in the midst of a civic election campaign. It is almost impossible for us to understand what it would mean to live in a country where you could be thrown in jail for 11 years for supporting the idea of making choices on a ballot. Here in Edmonton, they beg us to vote. We tire of hearing political rhetoric. We grumble that there’s nobody we want to vote for. Sometimes we don’t even vote. Can you imagine that?
Yesterday I voted in our upcoming civic election. I cast my vote in the advance poll (note to all candidates who plan to interrupt my dinner by having your machines call me before the election, it’s too late.) I voted privately and independently. As I pushed the final button to roll my ballot out of the voting machine, I thought of you, Liu Xiaobo. I wondered what you’d say if you knew how far we in Edmonton have gone to ensure a private and independent vote.
My private and independent vote was assured by a machine that read me the ballot and allowed me to choose candidates by pressing buttons. Before the ballot was confirmed, it gave me a chance to hear my votes again, a chance to be sure I’d done what I wanted to do. We’ve had this marvellous opportunity for several municipal elections. It may not seem like such a big thing to others. In fact, the country and the province have not figured out how to make it happen in their elections. If you are a blind chooser of leaders for the country or the province, somebody has to swear an oath of reliability and help you cast your vote. But when I vote for civic government in Edmonton, I cast my own vote for mayor, councillor and school trustee.
Many years ago an election official asked me if it really mattered that much. “Isn’t it just as good to have somebody you trust mark your ballot according to your instructions?”
I wondered for a moment how to answer. Providing this machine costs money. Is it money well spent? I took a deep breath and I said it mattered to me, even though I did trust the person who would mark my ballot.
I wonder how you’d answer this question, Liu Xiaobo. Would my little quest for independence seem inconsequential to you in view of the larger needs of a wider world? I’d like to ask you, if only they’d let you out of jail.
I do hope they will soon let you out of prison so that you can collect your prize. I also hope they will some day let you cast the vote of your choice in your own country. I suppose there is a cost for democracy everywhere. The cost is higher in some places.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


The first voice I heard when I woke up this morning belonged to one of my most famous hope heroes, Barack Obama. It was not the hopeful voice I am accustomed to hearing, not the voice that made him my hope hero. Quite the contrary, in fact. It was a sad voice. He was trying to rally the Democrats and it did not appear to be going well. You could hear the fatigue in his tone. He was chiding them, scolding them, urging them to get back to work. Senate elections are coming up and it sounded like he was feeling an urgent need for supportive followers. It’s a nasty position for a guy who needs the help of millions if he’s to convert his hopes into accomplishments.
Helplessly watching your very own hope hero suffer is a painful thing and I was feeling the pain. Even though I hadn’t brushed my hair or my teeth, even though it was 6:00 AM, not my optimal hour of best compassion, my heart went out to him. The reporter playing the clip was presenting evidence to prove that Obama is a desperate man. The speech excerpts he had chosen did appear to support that. So at that early moment, applying the twisted logic you might expect at 6:01 AM from a sleepy HOPE LADY I made a declaration. I promised to do whatever I could do to help my hope hero go forward in his hour of need. Only one question remained to be answered? Exactly what is it that a Canadian HOPE LADY can do for a President of the United States?
By the time the sun rose I was seriously considering some options. I could give money. Giving $10.00 would be relatively easy, except for the problem of exchanging the money into American currency, and the possible legal impediments that might prevent US politicians from accepting donations from Canadians. But on second thought, what use would Barack have for the equivalent of ten Canadian dollars? There might be a better option.
I considered calling an American talk show and stating my opinion on a variety of political issues. It seems like a lot of people get most of their information from talk shows these days, and most of my opinions are in line with barack’s stated hopes. This seemed plausible, until I realized that I’d have to start listening to American talk shows in order to find the one that would most likely take my call. That use of my time tempted me about as much as the idea of eating political pamphlets for a mid-morning snack. I decided to keep thinking.
Lunchtime arrived and still I had no plan of action. Assisting a US president is not as easy as you might think. But with the help of a little confidence boost and some thinking-it-through assistance from Rachel, a plan of action was at last devised. I would steer away from the thing that has so far earned me no respect—the formidable task of influencing American politics and steer toward something more familiar. I would offer my best HOPE LADY advice to Barack Obama. And here it is.
Stick with the hope stuff Barack! It served you well before, and there is no reason to believe it can’t do that again.
State your hopes for your country in the language of I hope. You’ve done it before. You can do it again. Stating hopes is a momentum builder. You could use some momentum now.
Refuse to choose between hope and reality. You don’t have to worry about losing reality. It will be there. Focus on the thing you might lose—hope.
Hang out with hopeful people—the people who give you hope. Hope is contagious. Some people are extraordinarily good at spreading it. You have shown yourself to be good at giving it, and it’s best to keep your own supply up.
Keep up your supply of hope by looking for hope in your past experience. Pay particular attention to things that turned out better than you expected, things that were possible when you thought they weren’t. Write about these things. Talk about these things. It’s easy to lose sight of them when you get really busy trying to fix absolutely everything.
And finally, try not to give too much attention to the hope-suckers, those people and events that suck out all the hope leaving you with only fear and despair. The media is already giving them more credence than they’ve earned. They’ll tell you that hope is not enough to fix everything. Who do they think they’re talking to? This is not news. Having hope is an efficiency measure. It’s just a whole lot easier to do anything worth doing when you have hope. Insist that others should offer a hope to match every hope of yours. Don’t let them off the hook until they do.
If this is not enough to make things better, I still have ten available Canadian dollars to give you. Proof positive that there is always one more option.

Friday, October 01, 2010


This morning, in the waiting room at the Cancer Institute I suddenly remembered the first time Lawrence and I went out for dinner. We were unlikely dinner dates thrown together by fate, mother and son hungry at suppertime. He was a teen-ager with a driver’s license. I was an ineligible driver with car keys. Everyone else in the family was—somewhere else. It was back in the days when I used to cook for him. Not surprisingly, it was I who suggested going out.
“Where would we go?” he asked. Scepticism hung heavy on the air.
“Wherever you like,” I said brightly.
“MacDonald’s,” he said.
“Anywhere except MacDonald’s,” I said. I had, after all, been thinking of going out for an actual dinner. Surely he didn’t want MacDonald’s! We could walk there.
“Oh Mother!” He gave one of those sighs that conveys everything without saying anything. “It has to be somewhere where we can order,” he said.
And now I understood what he was thinking. Considering our particular blend of disabilities, we were an impractical match for a dinner menu—a mother who would be able to read if she could only see, and a son who could see but not read. He was imagining the two of us staring blankly at a menu, neither with a clue as to what was on it. He was wondering what we’d say to the waitress, what kind of food we might get if he simply pointed at random to some item, hoping it was a burger.
Given the amount of creativity it might have taken to overcome this difficulty, I did think it probably would have been easier to stay home. But once you’ve imagined yourself out for dinner, it’s hard to let that go. So we went to Boston Pizza and managed well enough, or so we must have, because I don’t recall any memorable trauma.
These days we never go out for dinner, though we occasionally go somewhere together. Today our destination was the Cancer Institute, a stupefying jumble of scurrying professionals, snaking hallways, directional signs and forms requiring due diligence. Going out to dinner at any restaurant would have been a better choice. But this was not a menu with choices. Cancer institutes carry a lot of weight. If they tell you to go there on October 1, you go there on October 1, even if you have to go with your less-than-completely-helpful mother.
There are really two problems that arise when you cannot read. The first is that you cannot read, a condition that makes it difficult to know where to go, what to do, and what you might be giving written permission for in a busy hospital. The second problem lies in the explanation of it to others. For a blind person it’s easy enough. You show your cane and let them take it from there. If that doesn’t get you what you need, you swallow hard and say, “I’m blind. I’ll need you to read this.” Negligent as it may sometimes be, our culture, in general, is kind to the blind. But if you are not blind, and you are holding a set of car keys, and maybe you are even guiding a blind person, well, the situation isn’t quite so straightforward. Outside the professional realm, a variety of words are used to describe young men who function without the benefit of reading. They’re not fitting for a HOPE LADY Blog. I won’t mention them here. But even when nobody mentions them, they echo in the heads of those who are presented with English forms that might as well be in German or Italian for all the sense they make.
I wished I hadn’t gone with him. I wished somebody else was there in my place, somebody who could be a better help. I am a loving mother. Guided by the instinct of a protective hen, I would happily have sent him to the washroom while I whispered a request to the receptionist. “Please help my son read this form. It’s not his fault that he can’t read it.”
But he did not need the washroom, and he did not need me to explain it. I sat in the waiting room, waiting. He boldly told the lady she would have to read the form for him. He didn’t give her a reason, and she didn’t ask for one. You’d think that reading forms was the thing she was expecting to do.
Given the way things turned out, so much better than I expected, you surely can’t blame me for wondering if we should go out for lunch.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


A single story can be hopeful or not-so-hopeful. It all depends on where you put the emphasis.

Part 1
Create hope in a story you tell by making sure you know in your heart where the hope is. Feel it first.

Part 2
Create hope by playing with time. Make the time span as long as it needs to be.

Part 3
Create hope in one context by telling a hopeful story about another.

Part 4
Create hope in stories by talking about hope.

Part 5
Create hope in stories by including symbols.

part 6
Create hope with heroes

Part 7
Create hope by favouring the underdog.

Part 8
Create hope by reporting the unexpected good thing.

Part 9
Create hope by telling how an impossible thing became possible.

10) Create hope in stories with the language of ”yet” and “”when”.

Using “yet” and “when” in a hopeful way is a skill worth developing because these are powerful hope words coming from people who know how and where to place them. They can help us connect to the hope that lies unexpressed just below the surface of a story. They can set up the foreshadowing of a future that will occur later in a story, or a future that might occur after the story. A sentence that hints at the possibility of a better future is a sentence that invites us to hope. It takes a bit of experimentation to learn to use “yet” and “when” in a hopeful context, given that both these words are commonly used in a variety of ways.
For those of you who find it helpful to map out the grammar, we’ll be employing “”Yet” as an adverb and “when” as a conjunction. These rules out other forms that are not related to hope, even though they are appropriate uses of the language. “Yet” as an adverb sets a timeline on some sort of action. “It hasn’t happened yet.” “When” as a conjunction connects a timeline to an event. “It rained when he came to town." ”Yet” and “when” give us hope when we use them to draw a contrast between a situation at one time, and that same situation at another time.
Let us look at using “yet” and “when” to foreshadow something good that is going to happen in a story. The teller has all the power to influence hope here, because the teller knows what is going to happen. Think of a story where Johnny’s mother despairs over the constant mess in her house. You can in that story, for example, describe a floor covered in dirty socks. You can say, “Johnny never picked up his socks,” and not feel any hope at all. You can say, “Johnny hasn’t picked up his socks yet.” In this case, we really don’t know if there’s any hope that he will. Some will choose to hope that he will, others will imagine that he won’t. But if you, the teller, already know that Johnny did eventually learn to pick up his socks, you can say, “Johnny hadn’t learned to pick up his socks yet.” That statement foreshadows the future. It opens the door to a possible contrast between this point in the story and some other point we haven’t reached yet. It tempts us, invites us to hope that he does, at some point, pick them up. It guides us through the story in a hopeful way.
“When” can also foreshadow a good thing the teller knows is going to happen. In this example it points to a contrast between how things are at one point in a story, and how they will be at another point. “It was back in the dirty days, the days when Johnny didn’t pick up socks.” “She would sip her coffee, dreaming of the day when the floor would sparkle, its surface unencumbered by Johnny’s dirty socks.” Again, note the contrast between two time periods.
Now let us turn to another way in which we can generate hope with “yet” and “when”. We can use them to foreshadow a hopeful future that could possibly happen in a time after our story is finished. It hasn’t happened so far, or maybe it did happen in the past and is not happening now. It’s the hopeful future that hasn’t occurred yet. The hope comes from our expectation that things will be better when it does. Things will be better as soon as it happens. Things will be better at the time when it happens. Here we are stepping out on uncertain, untested ground—the land of the unknown, the territory of possibility. We are deciding that we will still have hope at the known end of our story, using language to create that hope without the support of the happily-ever-after scenario that has neatly concluded so many fairy tales from the past. We are projecting, in a subtle way, a hopeful story of a time beyond the end of our story.
“Johnny hasn’t picked up his socks yet. And if the house is quieter now, no sound of nagging or pleading, then it just may be that Johnny’s mother is too busy making fabulous quilts to notice.” “Johnny’s mother is busier these days. Quilting is her all-consuming passion. And when Johnny reaches that magic age of picking up socks and doing little things to please his mother, it may take her a few days to notice.”

Monday, September 27, 2010


Nothing makes you warmer than a random day of hotness
A surprise in late September
When the sun comes out with gusto and the wind goes on vacation
When your coat goes into hiding while your toes are glad of sandals
And the heat balloons inside you through your skin and bones and tissues
Warming all the places that have wanted to be warmed

Nothing makes you warmer than a random day of hotness
A surprise in late September
Except cuddling somebody
Or chasing after a toddler,
Or blowing into the day’s first cup of coffee
Or eating hot and sour soup,
Or maybe—and this is where the hope comes in,
Maybe a really warm day in early October?

Friday, September 24, 2010


On the night of my most recent birthday—an annual event that occurs only two days after David’s birthday—Mark cooked prime rib with fresh garden vegetables for dinner. I ate two helpings. The prime rib was delicious, and there was no need to leave room for dessert, seeing as how Tracey had baked chocolate cheesecake muffins for my breakfast, and we would be able to snack before bed on the last of the Mars bars squares she had baked for David. Their gift to both of us—a spiffy new webcam with tracking capability—stood patiently upstairs in the study, waiting for something to track.
Birthdays in our house have changed over the years. We used to celebrate them with David’s family. His mother loved to buy him his favourite cake. Then, when Ruth grew to adulthood, she would sometimes plan a party, a two-caker accommodating our differing tastes.
Though Mark grew up with birthday parties, his adult self never was one to celebrate birthdays. You could celebrate his if you liked. He’d never ask you to. You could tell him yours was coming and he’d forget, or maybe ignore your hint. But Tracey has brought about a change. Birthdays matter to Tracey. She has a generous heart, and birthdays lend themselves comfortably to some of her favourite pastimes—baking, shopping and giving. Compelled by her enthusiasm and her attention to the calendar, Mark has been transformed into a man who shops for birthday gifts. Once he has shopped for a gift, a point of pride, he gives it to you. “You might as well have it now,” he’ll say logically. “No point in waiting.” I look on in wonder. People change. How else can you account for it.
Birthdays in our family continue to change. Say what you like about tradition. The future pulls you forward. Mark disappeared while we sat at the table, sighing and chatting the way you do when you’ve eaten a bit more than you ought. Next thing we knew, he was urgently beckoning us upstairs to the study.
There, in front of the computer stood two cakes, a white Safeway cake covered in inches of disgusting white icing for those among us who prefer that, and a lovely chocolate cheesecake for me. There were candles to blow. Ruth and Derek were singing Happy Birthday into their webcam in Guelph. Thus began a most delightful cyberparty. It felt like fun. It was almost as if we were all there in the study. As we ate our cake, they were eating peach cobbler.
Who knows what the future holds? Who can possibly imagine? Will it be another year or two before some techy figures out how to share a cake over the Internet?

Monday, September 20, 2010


A number of you have been asking for a list of publications that describe some of the work we show in hope presentations. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it represents our recent work. You can find many more articles by searching for articles and book chapters by Denise Larsen and Ronna Jevne.


Larsen D., & Stege, R. (2010). Hope-focused practices during early psychotherapy sessions: implicit approaches, Journal of integrative psychotherapy 20(3) 271/292.

Larsen D., & Stege, R. (2010). Hope-focused practices during early psychotherapy sessions: explicit approaches, Journal of integrative psychotherapy 20(3)292-311.

Edey, W. (2010). Handling life’s problems in a hopeful way: a hope and strengths program for parents who have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), AASCF research journal retrieve from

Edey, W. (2010). What would a hopeful parent say? Living with FASD. Retrieve from

LeMay, L., & Edey, W. (2008). Teachers helping teachers: A hope-focused experience. Edmonton, Canada: Hope Foundation of Alberta.

Edey, W., (2008). The words the cat took, in This Little Light of Mine: Stories and Poetry from Family Caregivers, Kathleen M. Banchoff, Editor, McMaster University Press.

Lemay, L., Edey, W. & Larsen D. (2008). Nurturing Hopeful Souls, Practices and Activities for working With Children and Youth. Hope Foundation of Alberta.

Larsen, D., Edey, W., & LeMay, L. (2007). Understanding the role of hope in counselling: Exploring the intentional uses of hope. Counselling Psychology
Quarterly, 20(4), 401-416.

Larsen, D., Edey, W., & LeMay , L. (2005). Put hope to work: A commentary. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 52(5), 515-517.

Edey, W., Larsen, D., & LeMay, L. (2005). The counsellor’s introduction to hope tools. Unpublished paper. Hope Foundation of Alberta, Edmonton, AB.

Edey, W. & Jevne, R.F. (2003). Hope, illness and counseling practice: Making hope visible. Canadian Journal of Counselling, 37(1), 44-51.

Edey, W. (1999). Hope as a line of inquiry in the counselling relationship. Unpublished paper prepared at the Hope Foundation of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta.

Edey, W. (1999). After the laughter. Psymposium, 8(5), 12.

Edey, W. (2000). The language of hope in counselling. Unpublished paper prepared at the Hope Foundation of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta.

Edey, W., Jevne, R.F., & Westra, K. (1998). Key elements of hope-focussedcounselling: The art of making hope visible. Edmonton: The Hope Foundation of Alberta.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


A single story can be hopeful or not-so-hopeful. It all depends on where you put the emphasis.

Part 1
Create hope in a story you tell by making sure you know in your heart where the hope is. Feel it first.

Part 2
Create hope by playing with time. Make the time span as long as it needs to be.

Part 3
Create hope in one context by telling a hopeful story about another.

Part 4
Create hope in stories by talking about hope.

Part 5
Create hope in stories by including symbols.

part 6
Create hope with heroes

Part 7
Create hope by favouring the underdog.

Part 8
Create hope by reporting the unexpected good thing.

9) Create hope by reporting times when the impossible became possible.

Charles Alexandre de Calonne: The impossible takes a little longer.

Stories about impossible things that became possible are stories that generate hope. They provide evidence that future predictions, sensible as they be at any given time, are not infinitely accurate. Things may change. With the acceptance that things may change comes the feelling of hope.
What are we really meaning when we say something is impossible? We are saying, “This cannot happen.” We are saying, “This will not happen.” We are saying, “Don’t believe in this. You will only be disappointed.” We are saying, “There is no evidence that this is possible.”
Fortunately for all of us, impossible things happen on a very regular basis. Everyone who previously said they were impossible is automatically proved wrong. Thus we are freed to entertain the possibility that the wisest people who have the most information may possibly be wrong. There is hope in that.
Roger Banister is a good example of someone who achieved the impossible. When he ran a mile in less than four minutes, he was doing something that was inmpossible, impossible because it had never been done before. At the moment when he did it, it suddenly, irreversably became possible.
The range of stories about impossible things that became possible is probably infinite. Technology gives them to us by the millions. Through all of time it was impossible for people to cross wide expanses of ocean in five days, to fly, to go into outer space, to transplant hearts. And then, one day, each of these things was possible, possible because it had been done.
The stories that generate hope can be about impossible things that are now considered commonplace, like crossing the ocean quickly, or flying. They can also be about things that are still very infrequent. The act of running a four-minute mile is still unlikely for most of us. Only a few people have done it and reported it to credible sources. It would take a long time for any of us to develop the ability to do it. Impossible things do tend to take longer.

Friday, September 17, 2010


I neded to make a comb concert
For 150 people
So that we could stand together
Lips vibrating, hearts laughing,
All of us one for only a moment,
The gulf between us gone.

But despite my fervent wishes
For a story of loaves and fishes
I had only one small comb
I was miles away from home
And we needed a comb concert
If we were to hope together.

So for those of you still puzzled,
Having craned your neck to see
150 people blowing raspberries at a conference,
It was all because of me
Wanting them to laugh together.

Blow raspberries with your neighbours
Feel the tickling on your lips,
And notice how hard it is to laugh with them,
And resent them at exactly the same time.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Therese Borchard: Pain And Humor: The Dark Side Of Funny
”I typically offend five to 10 percent of my readers when I use sarcasm and wit in a post. So should I skip the attitude and satire? Absolutely not. I hate
to say this -- it sounds cold and heartless -- but I'd rather offend five listeners to allow 95 listeners a moment of healing laughter, than to stay boring
and safe. It's sort of the opposite philosophy of Jesus and the lost sheep. I'd sacrifice one sheep in order to help out the 99 that are desperate for
a laugh. Sorry, Jesus.”

I like this philosophy. I probably live by this philosophy. But I can't help but wonder what you say when you meet the one--or is it five--that you sacrificed.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


“What is the biggest change of your life so far?” he asked. It was an inquiry made for interest’s sake by a genuinely curious person. Even if it hadn’t been some time around 9:00 AM on a Sunday morning, I expect it might have taken me a little time to sift through possible answers. My life so far is not nearly as short as it used to be.
Several possibilities presented themselves for evaluation. Could it have been when I started at the University of Alberta—the first time I ever did any serious walking on a daily basis? Could it have been my wedding day, or the year we moved to Calgary, or the day my Granny moved into the seniors’ lodge, or the day Mark was born—the first day of a permanent state of parenthood,, or the day Mom died? Well, really, it could have been any of those days, and maybe a dozen more. But I do believe that despite all the years, amid changes of various kinds, the biggest change of my life occurred when I was eleven—almost twelve. That is the time when I split in two. When I was eleven there was a little Alberta farm girl named Wendy. Her mother sewed her clothes and washed her hair in the kitchen sink and did her laundry in the basement, agitating it in the washing machine and feeding it carefully through the wringer before hanging it out to dry. Wendy played in the chicken yard, stroked her old dog, petted the barn cats, napped on the veranda, talked to the turkeys, rode bareback on Trixie, listened to country music and believed just about everything her parents told her. Farms were safe places, villages not quite as safe, small cities were scary, unless you had to visit big cities. Then small cities were safe.
Wendy went to school. She had a few friends to whose houses she was occasionally a visitor. But the main person in her life was her mother—solver of problems, arbiter of decisions, interpreter of life’s vagaries.
It was Mother who changed first. To her regular summer gardening, cooking, cleaning, chicken-tending, community volunteering duties she added one more—the job of getting Wendy ready to go away. Wendy was going to the Jericho Hill School for the Blind in Vancouver—a decision reached during conversations to which Wendy had not been a party. Much preparing had to be done.
She was fitted for dresses. Dresses, in Vancouver, were mandatory on school days. She was fitted for a raincoat. Raincoats, in Alberta, were not normally found in the closets of little girls. Her little purse—the first purse of her life—was filled with money—something she had never needed, not more than a quarter at a time. It also held cough drops in case she coughed, painkillers in case she got a headache, gum in case she wanted to chew and chocolate bars in case she got hungry. Her bag was packed tightly with Granny’s shortbread, rice Krispies squares and chocolate chip cookies. She had her own tube of toothpaste, her own bottle of shampoo. She even had a housecoat and slippers! But she was still Wendy.
Wendy and her mother rode an airplane to Vancouver, and a school bus to Jericho Hill School for the Blind. The matron took them aside for a private chat about the rules. Rules had never been a problem for Wendy. She had always been willing to obey.
The matron told them that the girls were not allowed to keep money because it might get stolen. They were not allowed to keep medications because they might be misused. They were not allowed to keep food. All food must be shared with everyone. When the matron left the room, Wendy’s mother told Wendy those rules were intended for children who were less responsible. She thought everyone would be happier if the matron were not burdened with too much troubling information about food, money or medicines Wendy might have in her possession. It was interesting to see the effect that one hour in a big city had on Wendy’s mother. But the change was only temporary. Wendy obeyed her mother.
Wendy’s mother went home to the farm. Wendy was homesick. Everything was foreign and strange. People were kind to her. Often they ignored her. She cried every day for the first twelve days, disciplining herself after the first week to cry a little less each day, hoping at some point to have a dry one.
Wendy did not last long at Jericho Hill. There were already two Wendy’s in the grade seven class at Jericho Hill. Wendy raised the count to three. To simplify the confusion, one of her teachers decided to call her Cooky, a derivative of her last name. He likely had not intended to create a new person. But Cooky was a new person. That made everything easier.
Cooky washed her clothes in an automatic washer and learned how to iron them. “I am not ironing for a girl your age,” the matron scolded. Cooky visited friends who had never been to an Alberta farm. With them she laughed at the habits of Alberta farm families. Wendy would never have seen the humour. Cooky swore—not a lot, but enough to make her popular. Wendy’s family would not have liked that at all. Cooky’s transistor radio was tuned to CFUN. CFUN did not play any country music.
Cooky got on a plane and went to visit Wendy’s family. They, expecting Wendy, had bought Barbie doll clothes for Christmas. Cooky did her best to hide her surprise. She was not a girl without manners. On vacations she did her best to accommodate herself to the life that had been so familiar to Wendy. But it was winter. The turkeys were on holiday tables and the chickens were hunkered down in the chickenhouse. Wendy’s dog had succumbed to old age. Still, Wendy inched out a little, feeling more at home with each passing day. But a Christmas break is a short break, and Cooky was anxious to get back to her friends.
Wendy’s mother never knew Cooky very well. Cooky was a teen-ager. To get to know a teen-ager, you need to be close enough to observe things so you know what questions to ask. She knew her daughter was often invited to spend weekends with other students. No information was purposefully withheld from her, but she never thought to ask, “How was the weekend you spent at the house where a drug-addicted uncle had to be lied to so he would not get angry and kick his mother down the stairs again?” It never occurred to her to inquire about the friend who had sex for the first time, or the one who had seen her brother assaulting the family dog.
Cooky’s life was brief—only three years in length. It waws a happy life and it was significant. It ended with one final plane ride. Educational trends mapped out the future. Wendy would go home to start Grade 10.
Cooky was gone, but not forgotten, not all at once anyway. For the first few months of high school Wendy had no friends. Sometimes she cried. Cooky tried to help, but she really couldn’t do much. She was too far from home. There was no place for her here. She had never been a farm girl.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


“What would you like to do when you come here?” It was Ruth on the line, preparing in advance for our trip halfway across the country, the inaugural mother-in-law visit to a town I’d never before set foot in.
”I’d like to go bra shopping if we have time,” I replied. The first half was meant to be decisive, the second considerate.
The other end of the line went strangely silent. Having expected to hear a vote for a visit to Niagara Falls, or possibly the Elora Gorge, she took some time to regroup her thoughts before saying, “Sure. In this way, a plan was born. For her it was a surprise. For me, a golden opportunity for an experience I had not had in—let me think—an experience I had not had in at least 35 years. This was my invitation to go bra shopping with a woman.
David was equally surprised when he heard about the plan. Without having been fully aware of it, he had been expecting to be shopping for bras with me for as long as we both should live. Our marriage vows were straight out of the book—love and cherish sickness and health, all that stuff. That said, he found himself adding a lot between the lines when he married a blind woman—extra duties as assigned, you might say. One of his extra duties had always been bra shopping. It came as a shock that I should be suggesting a change—after all these years.
Now it may be that I am wrong—or it may be that I am right—in thinking that women tend to do their bra shopping either alone or with other women. I imagine this to be true even of women who, like me, have a husband who is generous, gracious and good-humoured in giving assistance wherever it is needed. I imagine my husband to be one of a select few who know how it feels to tread boldly through the lingerie department, opening little boxes, offering up a variety of cups and straps to be inspected by touch. It may not be everyone’s experience, but this is a scenario we have acted out on many occasions.
Though years will elapse between one shopping excursion and the next, the pattern repeats itself with remarkable similarity. No matter how efficient you try to be—and there’s something about the feeling you get when two of you stand squeezing bras in public that makes you want to hurry--the process can take a while. Given the time it takes, an adventure is sure to develop.
”What size does she need?” a saleswoman will invariably ask. For any other purpose you might walk miles, wait for hours to find a sales clerk. But let a man start opening bra boxes and clerks will come swarming like flies to an open meat tray. It’s the indisputable lure of curiosity.
David will stand in silence, waiting for me to state the size. I’ll state my size. He’ll take a step back to give me and the clerk some room to get to know each other better. And this really ought to be the beginning of shopping for a bra with a woman, but it rarely is. Having discovered a man who will willingly go bra shopping with his wife, there are few clerks who can let him go so easily.
“What colour will she need?” the clerk will ask, beckoning him to rejoin the conversation. Colour is a thing that seems to require participation of the sighted.
This alone might be drama enough. But it rarely stops there. It is just the suspenseful warm-up for the next act, when we awkwardly approach the maze of change-rooms marked Women Only. That’s where the really hard questions present themselves. How will I find an empty change room? Will I be able to manage on my own? If I go into a room alone, what will we do with him?
It’s a quick trip, bra shopping with a man. You get in there, you get it on, you get out and you wait as long as is humanly possible before starting again. It was pure coincidence that had prompted Ruth to call with her question at the exact moment when I was observing that another round of bra shopping was becoming an immediate need. It was pure genius that prompted me to see how things could be different this time.
Without really being aware of it, I had imagined Ruth and me leaving the house together, leaving the men behind to do man stuff. But the morning of the shopping trip saw all four of us climbing into the car. Having recently taken marriage vows of his own—newer wording for the same old stuff, love and cherish, sickness and health, etc.—Derek was apparently preparing to find his own niche in the family culture. It wasn’t until we got inside the store that we parted ways. We ladies stopped in Intimate Apparel. The men went off in search of a weed whacker.
Before long, Ruth and I were chatting happily, popping open little boxes, comparing straps and cups by touch. In only a moment a salesclerk was upon us.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
I couldn’t think of a thing to say. Ruth said we would ask her if we needed anything. A few moments later we were passing without incident into the change rooms.
Now commenced the happiest chapter of all—the sweet sojourn when I shopped the way I imagine the queen would shop if she ever made it to the change rooms at Sears. The trying-on began, some of it more satisfying, some less. Presented with choice, and Ruth’s freedom to pass back and forth unaccosted between cubicle and sales racks, I traded the pressure of getting it over with for the pleasure of getting it right. We dreamed of other styles, imagined other sizes. In what seemed like no time at all we were just about finished.
You learn things when you go shopping. On that day, I learned that buying a suitable weed-whacker takes less time than shopping for a comfortable bra. Emerging from the maze, we encountered the men who had made their way back to Intimate Apparel. Each had taken up a utilitarian post. David was the sentry, watching for us to come out. He had realized that I, having forgotten to bring my purse, would need money in order to complete the transaction. Derek had assumed a position in the lengthy cashier line—all the quicker to expedite the finishing touches.
And thus concluded one of the highlights of the inaugural mother-in-law visit. Today I was back at work, telling stories about our visit to St. Jacobs Farmers Market to those who ask me what kinds of things we did. Having shopped for bras the way other women do, there’s really no news in that. But it does occur to me to wonder, if Derek’s colleagues are also inquiring, will he say, ”Oh, we didn’t do all that much. We just went to St. Jacobs Market and did a little bra shopping with my mother-in-law.”

Monday, September 06, 2010


A single story can be hopeful or not-so-hopeful. It all depends on where you put the emphasis.

Part 1
Create hope in a story you tell by making sure you know in your heart where the hope is. Feel it first.

Part 2
Create hope by playing with time. Make the time span as long as it needs to be.

Part 3
Create hope in one context by telling a hopeful story about another.

Part 4
Create hope in stories by talking about hope.

Part 5
Create hope in stories by including symbols.

part 6
Create hope with heroes

Part 7
Create hope by favouring the underdog.

8)Create hope by reporting the unexpected good thing.

Karin Dufault and Benita Martocchio: Hope is a multidimensional dynamic life force characterized by a confident yet uncertain expectation of achieving a future good which, to the hoping person, is realistically possible and personally significant.

Long ago, when I was a new hire at the Hope Foundation of Alberta my attention was engaged by this interesting-if-awkward definition of hope put forward by Karin Dufault and Benita Martocchio. I was intrigued by the paradox ofconfident-yet-uncertain, drawn to the idea of an unidentified future good.
My interest was to be shared by many others. Over the years, this definition has been reprinted hundreds of times in academic and general interest articles and books. It was the forerunner of many of the ideas we now use in counselling. At a time when studying hope was a truly revolutionary idea, they had distilled it from multiple conversations over a two-year period with 35 elderly cancer patients and 42 others who were terminally ill. No wonder it seemed to be a little bit confusing! Small wonder, therefore, that so many people, through the lens of their own experience, have come to appreciate the truth in it. I thought a lot about this definition as I set out to do the job for which I had been hired, a hope novice talking to distressed people whose problems I hadn’t the power to solve, people who were looking, if not for solutions, then for somebody who could give them reason to hope. I often asked myself: “What is it that could help me and them be confident—if uncertain—about a future good? What could cause me to expect a future good for things that were significant to me?” Asking these questions of myself over and over again, I noticed that I had accumulated a repertoire of stories about incidents in my life where things had turned out better than I expected. Later, my colleague Dr. Denise Larsen would say I had been gathering stories as evidence for hope.
The act of noticing and then talking about things that turned out better than I expected has become a habit with me. Among the dozens of hope strategies you might observe in my daily work, it is the one that has most often given me reason to hope when I couldn’t see a clear path to a good future. When, at workshops, I ask the participants to tell each other stories of things that turned out better than they expected, the room seems to fill with hope.
To get the best hope mileage from a story about something that turned out better than you expected, you need to stress the contrast between what you expected to happen and what actually happened. It’s best to play up the element of surprise. Think, for a moment about the story of the Three Little Pigs. Think of those deal little pigs. First, the big bad wolf blew down that lovely straw house, leaving a pig homeless. The he blew down the house of sticks. Count two homeless pigs. What do we expect to happen the third time? The wolf is not uncertain. He’s done it before, he can do it again. As we follow the pigs, we have little reason to hope for a good outcome. All the evidence indicates that a pig’s house is not a fortress. Piggy building skills have shown little promise. But then, against all the odds, we find that a pig has built a house so sturdy that it can stand strong in the hurricane of a wolf’s desperate breath. What might we expect in the eye of other hurricanes?