Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Pearl-Ann Gooding said she enjoyed mys tories.
That was nice. She’s a good teller.
She invited me to tell a scary story at a graveyard concert she was producing.
That was scary. I don’t tell scary stories.
The concert was scheduled to start at midnight.
That was perplexing. I don’t stay up that late at my age.
She was donating the profits to the Storytellers of Canada Youth Scholarship Award.
That was pressure. She was planning to make a profit. People want something for their ticket money.
So I said I’d be pleased to tell a story at her concert. That kind of logic is typical of me.

I thought of all the scary stories I know.
That didn’t take long. I don’t know any.
And found a song about worms
And a story about worms
A wormy story about complicated grieving
The kind of story a psychologist might tell.
That was a good fit. I’m a psychologist.

The story was 2 minutes long.
That was short. Pearl-Ann wanted 20 minutes.
I added the song.
That stretched it to 4 minutes.
I added some characters.
That made it 8 minutes.
I added a sense of place through description.
That took it to 12.
I converted the story ending to a point in the rising action and added a whole new ending.
That stretched it to 16 minutes.
I added suspense.
17 minutes now, maybe more.

It was a dark and stormy night.
Six black-clad tellers assembled at the Wainwright Cemetery.
Railroad tracks were very near.
Midnight came and the concert began.
5 long trains rumbled by.
Rain poured down for 2 full hours.
And yet …

60 spectators bought 20-dollar tickets and sat out in the open
Sat through it all and clapped when we hoped they would.
Sang along when we told them to sing along.
Don’t tell me that science can explain everything!!!!

Friday, June 25, 2010


Yesterday Genevieve conducted follow-up dialogues with two of the participants in the hope and strengths group sessions Rachel and I recently offered for people with chronic pain. The interviewees were pleased and grateful. At our request, Genevieve was trying to find out just what it was about the process that had made them so. Those eager participants were doing their utmost to define it.
As I briefly glossed through the recordings it struck me that de-constructing a successful hope and strengths group for any population is a bit like eating a delicious cake and then accurately documenting the recipe. When it comes to cake, an inexperienced cook will savour the cake. An experienced cook may say something about the relative proportions of the ingredients. A person with knowledge about the chemical properties of the combined ingredients will speak to the fine points of its texture. Perhaps there is somebody who can document the process by which the heat of the oven transforms the goo in the bowl to the fine product on the plate. But it seems that nobody has yet been able to get around the reality that great cakes are constructed in test kitchens, either at home in labs. Would-be cooks just keep baking and baking, guiding themselves by the appreciation of the eaters, and they get better at it as they go. The cooks may or may not be able to explain the chemical combinations and molecular transformations that have made the cake what it is. About the best they can do is provide the recipe they used. Or is it the recipe they think they used, given that sometimes you just have to make adjustments because you notice that it doesn’t feel right?
When it comes to hope and strengths groups—and we’ve run a few of them lately—the ambiguity of what has occurred lies somewhere in the gap between the documented activities presented in each session—each offered for its own good reason—and the gratitude expressed in the evaluations. But here’s the problem—that thing that has consumed so much of my time when it comes to explaining the basis and success of hope work. Cake recipes are published in cookbooks. Cooks buy the books and start baking. We assume they will practice until they get it right if we give them the recipe, and we assume it isn’t important for them to know everything about how the process works before we give them the information they need in order to start the cooking. It seems to work pretty well.
Group work results, in contrast, are published in professional, peer-reviewed journals. Peer reviewed journals don’t let you publish a recipe until you have presented a complete summary of the properties of the ingredients and the experiments various people have done with them. By the time you’ve done half of that, you’ve exceeded the word limit, and there’s seldom, if ever, any room to present the recipe. If ever there is room, you usually have to leave out half the ingredients just to make it fit. As a result, there are very few places where practitioners can read detailed accounts about the daily work their colleagues do.
My hope is that the human services will some day have better respect for the value of practice, and will therefore put more emphasis on allowing the people who practice to present enough information about what they are actually doing so that others can try it out. Is there truly anything to fear if we move in this direction? What is the worst that could happen? After all, even though people bake cakes all the time, some better than others, it hasn’t threatened the professional respectability of the disciplined study of chemistry.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


A friend sent me something by email today.
He said it came from a reliable source.
The reliable source had heard it from someone.
The email was all about bee stings.

“Tape a penny on the bee sting,” it said
“And the copper will make the swelling go down.
Taking the place of the pain that would have been there.
Remember to send this to everyone you know,
Friends, children and grandchildren.”

“Placebo effect,” I said to myself.
“Or Maybe the penny keeps you from scratching.
Pin your hopes on the power of a simple penny
And something may improve.”

And then I remembered the Nocebo Effect.
A man died of cancer that had been diagnosed
Though the autopsy showed him to be without cancer.
False despair in deadly action,
The dangerous absence of hope.

So I taped a penny to the sorest spot on my back—
Just in case it was a bee sting.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Hats off to Peter Warden and his fledgeling newspaper
Somehow he has managed to keep it going for a whole year. This link takes you to one page of Peter’s blog, but keep digging. Here is the work of a man who grew tired of following the conventional rules of newspaperhood only to watch community newspapers disappear. Proof to all of us that all the good ideas in the world haven’t been used up yet.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Desmond Tutu quoted on CBC Radio 1: "To refuse to celebrate is to refuse to hope."

Friday, June 11, 2010


Are any two emotions more easily confused than hope and fear? How often do we say “I hope’ when our primary emotion is fear? “I hope it won’t rain,” we say. What we feel is: “I am afraid it will rain.” “I hope I don’t fail,” we say. What we feel is, “I am afraid of failure.”
Try as you might it would be difficult to find a place where this confusion reigns more vigorously than in the realm of health care. In health care, as in other things, we hope for prompt efficient service, calls returned, timely appointments. And yet there is nothing that scares us more completely than a lab worker who promises to send the result immediately to our doctor, or a doctor’s message saying, “I have your tests now. Please come in as soon as you can, preferably in the next day or so.”
And where does the fear come from? Could it be that, in the realm of health care, our hope is not the same as our expectation? Our expectation is to wait for service, to languish anonymously in stacks of charts, to be bumped when the budget is cut or a serious car accident brings in emergency cases. Our operating assumption is, "if it's good news, it can wait."

Thursday, June 10, 2010


”Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence” -- Lin Yutang quoted at

I just wish I’d thought to say that!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Gary McPherson, Audacious Hoper

Speaking of audacious hopers I really must compliment Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson on his portrayal of the late Gary McPherson No Limits On Gary McPherson’s Abilities
Much was written about Gary when he died, but Thomson gets my nod for capturing the hoping part and putting it ahead of the disability. We need audacious hopers in the world—people who expect more from themselves than others expect of them and therefore get more from themselves, people who expect more from the world at large than the world expects of itself and therefore get the world to do better than it thought it could.
While detailing his many accomplishments, Thomson describes McPherson as ”perhaps the most influential politician in Alberta who never held public office.” Still, he did run for office, and that’s more than can be said for most of us.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


I was looking for sympathy when I sighed in sad resignation, declaring my back pain to be chronic—I.E—a burden I’ll likely carry forever no matter how many experts I consult. Ever hopeful, Rachel said she once heard a wise woman declare that the term chronic means you’ve had something for a long time. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have it forever.
And I am left to wonder: Why is it that your own words never sound quite as wise when somebody quotes them back to you?

Sunday, June 06, 2010


Ordinary Things by Wendy Edey
First performed at Compassion House Retreat for Breast Cancer Survivors
The easiest way to start an extraordinary life is to start with ordinary things. Take this washboard, for example.

Lost In The Frozen North by Wendy Edey
First performed at T.A.L.E.S Story cafe
Sir John Franklin set sail from England in 1845 in search of a sea route from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the coveted northwest passage. Other northern explorers kept better records and are far less well known. There was Perry, and Collinson, and McLure, and McClintock, and me.
Yes me. I too have been lost in the frozen north, in the days before cell phones and gps, in that inscrutable suburban land of islands and dead-ends and circles where so many have been lost despite the stars, the maps, the compasses. This is the story of what I learned, and am still learning from the experience.

Welcome By Wendy Edey
First performed at Spcy Tales Concert
The first time I ever tried simosa I made myself a mental note: “In future, be careful about spices!”

Humour Studies by Wendy Edey
First performed at T.A.L.E.S Story Cafe
Had I not set out to study humour I might never have discovered the difference between humour and odour. And if it wasn’t exactly fun studying humour at university, it did raise some interesting questions about the nature of the relationship between humour and higher education.

Princesses by Wendy Edey
First performed at Canada Concert sponsored by Unitarian Church of Edmonton
Robert Munsch’s Paperbag Princess helps tell the stories of Alice Walker Hogman and Dr. Mary Percy Jackson, two remarkable professional women determined to have their careers and their princes charming too.

The Water Dragon’s Gift by Wendy Edey
First performed at T.A.L.E.S Story Cafe
In the year 280 B.C. a despairing Chinese poet threw himself into a river. This is the story of how that tragedy gave voice to 21st century women with breast cancer.

Good Sport by Wendy Edey
First performed at Alberta Provincial Archives Concert
For as long as history has been recorded, men have been throwing whatever is handy and calling it a sport. We tend to think a sport is a better sport if you play for a lot of money, attract sponsors, or watch it on TV. Now when was the last time you heard a story about the game of horseshoes?

Boom by Wendy Edey
First performed at T.A.L.E.S Story cafe
I’ve got news for you. There’s going to be a real estate boom in Edmonton. Prices will skyrocket. We don’t know when it will be, or exactly how it will start. But one thing we know for sure is that when it gets going, people will do crazy things. This is the story of two booms, one in 2007, the other in 1912.

Would A Minister Tell A Lie? By Wendy Edey
First performed at MWUC Christmas Jam\
That long-loved poem Twas The Night Before Christmas was written by a theologian. Or was it?

Mr. Andrews by E.M. Forster
First performed at Ardrossen United Church
A Christian and a Muslim meet on their way to Heaven. This tale is as relevant today as it was when Forster penned it in 1914.

Stream, Wind, Desert (a Sufi tale)
First performed at Alberta College of Social Workers Annual Conference
A stream tries to hold its shape while crossing the desert.

Burnout and Rekindling by Wendy Edey
First performed at T.A.L.E.S Audition
How do you inspire a group of social workers after a presentation that tanked, sank and went all the way down the toilet?

The French Invention by Wendy Edey
First Performed at T.A.L.E.S annual concert
Louis Braille made it possible for blind people to read and write. All he needed was support from the school for the blind. But few people know how long it took for Louis to get any respect.

Learning To Play Jacks by Wendy Edey
First performed at Early Education Conference, Edmonton
At last I had found a game I could win. It was a story that seemed too good to be true.

Singing Country Music by Wendy Edey
First performed at T.A.L.E.S Story Cafe
Everything I ever needed to know about moonshine I learned before the age of six. I learned it while sitting on the edge of the bed with my sister, singing country music.

How High’s The Water by Wendy Edey
If the North Saskatchewan River could talk it would have some stories to tell. It would tell about the floods that changed its banks forever, and the people who had to change their plans.

Little Mary Ann (adapted from a tale by Donna Lively)
First performed at T.A.L.E.S Story Cafe
Jane thinks it would be just about impossible to be as good as little Mary Ann.

The Woman With Many Names by Wendy Edey
First performed at the Edmonton Welsh Male Voice Choir concert
In the 19th century pipe organs were springing up in American churches. There was a demand for American hymns, and there were many writers to meet that demand. This is the story of the amazing life of one writer, Fanny Crosby.

The Sword Of Wood (a folk tale adapted by Doug Lipman
First performed at the Seniors Outreach Program, Ridgewood Baptist Church
A King sets out in peasant’s clothing on a quest to understand the people of his kingdom.

Miracles and Wonders by Wendy Edey
First performed at T.A.L.E.S Story Cafe
Mother couldn’t perform miracles, but she could do wonders. When she seemed the most helpless, she showed us all what a simple hope-opotamus could do.

The Words the cat took by Wendy Edey
First performed at Stroke Recovery Confrence
59,995 words is a lot to lose in a single night. On the day after the big stroke Harry still had five good words, and a message he wanted to deliver.

I Could Use Some Help Up Here by Wendy Edey
First performed at Alzheimer Society caregiver training
Even a damsel in distress will try just about anything before she admits she can’t do it on her own.

Lawrence Gives A Hope Talk by Wendy Edey
First performed at FASD Forum
Only a desperate person would seek public speaking advice from somebody who would rather eat carpenters’ tools than make a speech.

Knitters by Wendy Edey
First performed at T.A.L.E.S Story Cafe
“Murdering her is not a good idea,” he said. “We’ll send her to Gramma for knitting lessons.”

The Wedding of Dame Ragnell, A Tale Of King Arthur
First performed at Edmonton Women’s Prison
King Arthur searches the land to find out what women want.

The Street That Got Mislaid by Patrick Waddington
First performed at T.A.L.E.S annual festival
Who could imagine that a treasure lay behind that ordinary-looking brick wall?

Felicity’s Fortune by Wendy Edey
First performed at T.A.L.E.S annual festival
We know that a chicken was found in Dawson Park. What we wonder is how she got there.

Comb Concert by Wendy Edey
First performed at Alberta Teachers’ association Guidance Conference
This is a story about Kathryn Tucker Windham, Selma Alabama and the transformative power of audacious hope.

The Berlin Wall by Wendy Edey
First performed at Alberta Children’s Services Training
Back in the 1960’s, when we were practicing for the end of the world, we never imagined what might be happening in 1989.

Put On Your Own Mask First by Wendy Edey
First performed at Alzheimver Society caregiver training
They give you a lot of advice on airplanes. Some of it is more valuable that you think.

My Financial Career by Stephen Leacock
First performed at Alzheimer Society Caregiver Training
A bank is a scary place when you’re “rattled”.

Good-by Grandma by ray Bradbury
First performed at National Storytelling Network festival, Bellingham
Grandma organizes the family for her final exit.

The Cat Who lived A Million Times by Yoko Sano
First performed at T.a.L.E.S annual festival
Sometimes it takes a million tries to learn the most important lesson.

The Man Whose Mother Was A Pirate by Margaret Mahy
First performed at a birthday party for Audrey
A man and his mother set out on a voyage to find the sea.