Please, Permit Me to Introduce Myself, My Name is Elaine Sernovitz, You May Know Me by Another Name

August 3rd, 2017 by elaine

Please, Permit Me to Introduce Myself, My Name is Elaine Sernovitz, You May Know Me by Another Name.

My identity has been confused, but I didn’t know it until I was fourteen years old and eligible to get a work permit in the State of Wisconsn where I was born.  I was most anxious to get this piece of paper because I wanted to be able to work, to earn money, like my slightly older sister did and all her friends and some of mine as well.  So I went to the city hall and found that on the very day I was born, December 30, 1929, a person by the name of Harriet Ethel was born of my mother and my father.

The clerk was not the least bit upset but I was and went home with the appropriate papers, indignant.  I was soon registered correctly and  never had a problem again until 1955 when I was married in New Orleans to George Zimbel.  When, after a decent amount of time we didn’t get the copies of our documents to prove this event, I sent them a note  to enquire and signed the note:  Mr. and Mrs. George S. Zimbel.  (That is the most likely thing to do, looking back to how things were), and we got a notice back eventually saying:  Re: the marriage of George S.Zimbel to NO Name Given.

I didn’t feel real good about that, I was already a feminist, I was one from the day I was born being very adept at noticing inequalities in the boy/girl thing of my very large family and my school and the world at large.  But I knew who I was — Elaine Anne (with an e, as  Anne would say in ‘Anne of Green Gables” (I  added it myself, of course.)

We actually emigrated to Prince Edward Island where Anne was so popular in 1971, George and I and our four young children, one dog and I think two cats.  We had bought a 100 acre farm on the shores of the Northumberland Strait, and we were actually farming. The name Elaine A. Zimbel was my signature, and with it I wrote, I published, I broadcast on the CBC and I had a unique psychotherapy practice.  Someone said to George one day, never directly to me, “When your wife speaks, we listen!” There was no problem there with my name.

But ten years later we were disenchanted with rural life, we needed more stimulation, our children had left for greater spaces and we needed to do the same.  We moved to the only possible place for us, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  My French would come back and George would learn and we would live on the French side of town and find work and survive. George was fifty-one and I was almost the same.

And we did and we have,  I as Elaine Sernovitz, beause every woman in Quebec is identified with her name at birth (or nom de jeune fille); Health Card, Drivers License, you name it.  At first I found it amusing, being in a doctor’s office waiting for my turn and hearing,
“Madame Sernovitz?” or on the English side, “Mrs Sernovitz?”  The first time I gasped, OMG is my mother here?  Of course not, but that’s who she was all my life, not me. For a long long time I thought of it as a misnomer. It wasn’t really me.  And now all that has changed.

It is who I am.  It is who I want to be. It it is who I truly deserve to be.

It’s a long story and I won’t start at the beginning, nor can I take you to the end.  I will just say that in late January of this very year, 2017, I needed to have surgery to remove a masse that was “suspected” of being cancer.  I did not suspect it because I had not been feeling ill at all, with symptoms so mild I apologized to the doctor for taking her time to see me. Needless to say, the tests were done, the results were suspect, and the operation proceeded at an exellent teaching and research hospital where I was under the care of a highly qualified surgeon and his incredible team of young people.

When introduced to the anesthesiologist I joked with him, asking how did he wake people up, gesturing with a hand to indicate did he slap them (movies, forgive me!).  He laughed and said no, no he would call my name, and I said, “Well don’t call me Madame Sernovitz, because I might not answer”, and we agreed he could call me Elaine.  (I never did hear him call my name but when others teased me back, they said, But you did wake up.

True. I was back in my room and noticed the time on a big clock facing my bed,  and told my husband, who had been there since early morning to go home and have a rest,  and he did.

For some reasom the next part is extremely clear.. I was hooked up to an IV pole and I was very comfortable , not the least bit groggy. I believe it was two hours later. The head doctor came into my room and stood at the foot of the bed.  He said, “It is cancer,  There is no cure for ovarian cancer.  You may experience remission, but it will come back.”

He then offered chemotherarapy, describing it in such horrific terms it sounded like 1968, nausea, fatigue, loss of hair,  in repeated three week rounds …..for  18 weeks.  I said no thanks to that because I had not felt the least bit ill before the surgery and thought it would be insane to submit to that kind of treatment.  Later when the final report of the examination of the tissue was done and all that was cancerous was removed and a long strip of my belly had also been removed and found to be 100 % cancer free, I was pleased with my decision.

I asked the doctor if he had told anyone else (like family???) and he said, “No, only you.”

I have thought about this conversation many times.  I have thought in wonder how he could do that? Just shoot it at me like that.  And I have studied my reaction.  I can see my body from behind myself where I am sitting up in bed, and I know there is not a tear in my eye, there is not a gasp of my breath, there is a woman sitting there just like she has sat in many a professional lecture throughout her life, not the least bit detached, very much present, student of comparative literature and philosophy with a profound interest and training in body/mind psychotherapy.

Was it bad TV or a bad play  or a not very good book I was reviewing for  the Globe and Mail?  Was it his particular protocol?  STOP!

Later that afternoon some family came in  when a wonderful female resident joined us who, with great clarity and kindness explained the situation to us.  I am quite sure I didn’t mention that her boss had got there first.

I began to analyze this episode in my life and particularly my reaction to it, months after it occurred because I was rehospitalized to learn the cancer “had come back”  (as promised!!).  and this is when I saw myself, my dearest little Elaine Sernovitz, the person I was from birth and remained to that very day and this one.  And I am glad to be her.  I am proud of her.

And I don’t mind in the least when people say my last name and ask. “Where are you from?” meaning what country on the planet because I love to ask them the same thing.  They are so many lovely colours, so many cultures are behind them, I love it.  We are all the same.  People from away who have found a home in a civilised country with health care for all and no insuranee company calling the shots.  And good and LOVING care…with all manner of support from the community.

As for me, I am doing just fine.  I am surrounded by love so profound if I could not walk on water I could certainly float on it to whatever place I will be next…


This morning at 4:30 am Elaine Anne Sernovitz Zimbel slipped away as she had wished to, surrounded by love. This, her final post, was written on July 23.   We know that Elaine was always so grateful to you, readers for your letters, your kindness and your sage observations about  her words. On Monday, when we told Elaine how much we would miss her, she said, “I won’t be far”.

Thank you for reading.

We have opened the comments section of the blog.

With love,  George, Matt, Andrew, Ike, Jodi.

Montreal, Quebec, Canada


December 30, 1929 – August 3, 2017

Posted in Uncategorized

Rushing Backwards?

April 13th, 2017 by elaine

George went for a haircut the other day.  He goes to a real barbershop – it actually has a barber pole in front you can see from the metro station.  It has two chairs and two really nice guys who know how to cut hair and tell a story.  So the one who cut his hair this time told him that you can give his seven month old baby any toy in the world and he’s not interested.  The only thing he loves to play with is the iPhone.

Well, I don’t know….George is not too good with numbers, but his hearing is really fine.  So, maybe the guy said seventeen months old, or maybe he was speaking French or Spanish or something else.  But who knows these days?  I saw with my own eyes a video, shown to me by a trusted family member, of  a very young child reclining in his crib playing with his mother’s iPhone. You could see him pressing all the right buttons to get to the cartoon he loved the most – and that child was clearly not yet two years old.

Hmmmn…..But that was six years ago…perhaps seven months is the new “not yet two”.

I was thinking about this in terms of the ages of my four children, from 54 to 60, and having been there, those ages, I know they are not “old”.  They are ready, willing, and able to do the work they love, mostly freelance or self-employed, mostly creative, while it gets harder and harder to make a living in those fields.  So far they are doing fine, really fine.  But I wonder – will they soon be pushed aside by the younger ones at their back?

That’s when I thought about a novel by Anthony Trollope. a genius of the human heart.  It’s called “An Old Man’s Love”.  I read it late in life – I was curious. (The title grabbed me.) The Old Man, who had never married, had, as the story begins, lost his best beloved friend two years prior;  this friend, widowed, had a daughter whom he treasured, and perhaps on her account, because he was “impecunious” (very short of money), late in life married a lady who was hard, sharp, and possessed of an annuity – (generally not well liked but monied). That lady. as the book opens,  has now succumbed to an illness leaving the daughter, Mary, quite alone and virtually penniless; at twenty-five, a young women in this situation has, in fact, very limited prospects, none of them savoury.

The Old Man, who has received this news by letter delivered as usual ten minutes late by the post-boy, is extremely irritated even before reading it.  After all, he had got through his second cup of tea and was stranded in his chair, having nothing to do, with the empty cup and plates before him for the space of two minutes…. Reading the news, then, in that dark mood, his first reaction was severe:  I’ll be whipped if I will have anything to do with her (Mary).   He goes for a walk to calm himself and of course recalls his true feelings for his beloved friend and remembers as well that he himself, seeking to comfort the dying man who grieved for Mary’s future, had assured him, She shan’t want.  I can’t say anything more.

The Old Man,  after careful thought, determines that Mary must come to live with him and announces to his faithful housekeeper, she shall have her part of everything as though she were my own daughter.  Mrs. Baggett is not at all pleased.  I’m that old that I don’t feel like having a young missus put over me, she says, And it ain’t for your good…You ain’t a young man — nor you ain’t an old un; and she ain’t no relations to you.  That’s the worst part of it.

How old is the Old Man? Fifty.

Five Oh.  He is already five to ten years past his life expectancy for the year he was born in the UK.  My children, in their 50′s to 60, still have a way to go to theirs in this wondrous age of  80, 90, and even 100 year olds who are still vibrant.  I wonder, with the seven month old already owning the technical skills you and I often curse for the lack of, are we not rushing backwards to where fifty-year olds will soon be asked what eighty-year olds hear a lot:  Are you still working? (George and I hear:  Are you still breathing? and privately, we laugh).

There it is!  All that I have to say on this subject….I have wandered through several pages trying to put this bit into the context of how the world is now, and, as you may well guess, it led me down too many tragic paths, and I don’t want to go there.

And you don’t need me to go there either.  You know what I mean….

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2017

Posted in Eighty and then some..., Fiction, Uncategorized

Hysterectomy is a Feminist Issue – Duh

March 2nd, 2017 by elaine

A friend of mine who is eighty and then-some claims to be a feminist since birth.  I thought, well, that’s a bit of a stretch; and then I thought – no – I, too, am a feminist since birth, and I claim both personal and professional knowledge in this field:  don’t all children (and certain infantile adults) understand, virtually from birth, the concept “It’s not fair!”?  My friend Franny had brothers and so did I.  THEY didn’t have to make their bed or do the dishes; THEY could get up from the table and go out to play; E T C E T E R A!

Granted hysterectomy is a surgical procedure exclusively offered to women – only women have a uterus or womb, and that is the original meaning of the word hystera (from the Greek).  But that is not what makes it a feminist issue; Franny has the real story,  and she got it in French, her second language. I think she is brilliant  – listen to this!

Franny recently had a hysterectomy, rarely, we both thought, necessary for women our age and suspect for women at any age.  Feminist women of the 1970′s, like me and Franny, were put on their guard – we were warned to beware of the words “you don’t need that anymore”;  removal of all or part of the female reproductive system was done for many different reasons back then, some of them trivial, sometimes exploitative (ahem, financial?)…. your ovaries, even after menopause, do continue to serve a function, however diminished,  and they are not to be disposed of lightly.

In Franny’s  case it was necessary.  So she prepared for the surgery with the support of a wonderful French hospital.  There was something called a “pre-op day” where all the necessary tests were done and there was a PowerPoint lecture-demonstration of the process.  Nothing was left to the imagination, and each participant went home with all the information they had just heard, plus whatever they may not have thought to ask and a lined sheet to write down questions they may think of later.  Franny read and re-read everything, but the piece  that really caught her attention was the one that dealt with What to Expect once she was back home after surgery, especially the heading Physical Activity. Here is what it said (or how Franny translated it):

As soon as you get home you may begin your activities little by little. You may, for example

- do a little light housekeeping (do the dishes, dust, passer la vadrouille,  etc)
- go for a walk outdoors
- go up and down stairs

At first glance Franny thought passer la vadrouille was another way of saying it was vacuum (passer l’aspirateur).  She admits she was a bit hasty on that one, knocked for a loop by the outrageous idea that she would be comforted to know how soon she would be allowed to resume the role of the diligent little housewife. “I wonder what they tell men who have abdominal operations” she screamed at me on the phone, half laughing of course!

Once she did get home after surgery, her daughter, with whom she had shared this information (and who had received it with nothing more than a shrug) would call her up and ask, “How are you today, Mum?  Did you pass the vacuum cleaner yet?”  (That’s cool – we get that, Franny and I, it’s generational!)

Well it turns out la vadrouille is a dust mop, and who has seen a dust mop in the last 30 years?

By the way, Physical Activity (above) does not include Sexuality for which there is a separate section, very inclusive, very specific, including references to professionals in the health care field who may be able to help with difficulties, physical or mental.  Contemporary?

Franny is doing fine.  The more she shares her story the more stories she hears from other women.  It’s like the sexual assault thing – once someone has the courage to talk about it, other women are eager to share their stories, many of them with regret.

So what DO they tell men about their post-op first days at home?  Frannie said she will not ask that one, and neither will I.

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2017

Posted in Eighty and then some..., Health Care

The Confession

January 19th, 2017 by elaine

This is a true story.  The details are fuzzy, having rested a very long time in the attic of my brain.  There is no question, however, of their validity.  This really happened.

It was in primary school.  I could not have been more than eleven years old, but more likely I was ten.  I had come to school early for an extra-curricular activity – something to do with  music. Later I was in my classroom when I was called to the principal’s office, I could not imagine what for; I was a model child, good grades, good behaviour, with, however, a tendency to think the worst of myself; the youngest in a very large family, I was frequently corrected and/or criticized and/or teased, rarely praised for fear it would “turn my head”.

The Principal, Miss Colbert – yes, I remember her name – said to me, “You were tardy this morning.  You must stay after school today.”

Quaking with horror and fear, my voice full of tears, I rightfully (I was NEVER tardy) denied the accusation only to be scolded for lying.  Miss Colbert had proof – my teacher’s attendance report had marked me tardy.  “But I was there”, I insisted, the tears now flowing freely making Miss Colbert lose patience with me.  Did I question my teacher?  “No, but I….”  I couldn’t get the words out, I was not tardy….Or  was I?.  Did the teacher at the music thing keep us too long? Did I not walk fast enough to my classroom?  Did I not hear the bell? I said nothing more.  My tears and sobs, that was my confession.  One doesn’t cry if one is not guilty.

Big deal, you say.  These things happen.  Yes, of course, all over the world in every culture.  Literature is full of such accounts – I’ve been trying desperately to find the one I barely remember from French literature – a child and a comb, but who?

Here’s another story, also true, not so fuzzy as the last one.  I was fourteen, working in a candy store owned by a friend of the family. It was a very busy Saturday and people were waiting to be served.  My customer ordered a quarter of a pound of candy raisins (not raisins at all, just made to look like them), and a quarter of a pound of glazed almonds.  I weighed each item, told her the cost of each  and then the total.  She gave me some money and I gave her back her change and the two little packages.  And she left.

A short time later she came back into the store and I saw her talking to the boss who then called me into the back room where I was accused of stealing twenty-five cents.  The woman was working for the company whose little sign was on the store’s front door – a warning to all, This store is protected by…….agency.

The confrontation was long and ugly and I was, of course, reduced to tears.  I did not steal, I perhaps made an error.  The lady was not leaving until I wrote by hand a (dictated) confession and signed it, witnessed and signed by my boss who was very uncomfortable – he paid for this service after all – and finally, very near the end of my shift, with my confession in her purse, she left.  And so did I.

My parents, who rarely picked me up, miraculously were there, in the car, waiting for me.  I got into the back seat and proceeded to try to tell them through my tears what happened.  My father, a man of very few words, opened his door, said Come with me!, and marched me into the store, confronted the boss, and said, My daughter does not steal! The boss tried in vain to mollify my dad who would have none of it.  Close your register and count your money! he insisted.  There were customers in the store, the boss was not so inclined.  He assured my dad that he did not think I was a crook.

Whatever he said, whether he did what Daddy demanded or not, I was fine.  I had seen a quiet man I loved turn into a knight in shining armor on my behalf.  If anyone could have played that role, it would have been, according to my expectations, my mother, the gutsiest role model of my existence – and yet  it was Daddy, not needing a word from the warrior-mom, who told that man where to get off and defended his little girl’s honour!  And that of the whole family, of course.

One more story, this one is also true.  It happened not so very long ago.  A young woman, a Canadian citizen, was traveling from Canada to the United States with her American boyfriend.  The two had met some time before in a place where young people go to work these days, like planting trees in the mountains or building homes for people in Haiti – I leave some of the details fuzzy for reasons that will become obvious.  The young woman had applied to an American university to do graduate work and had been accepted.  She would be starting in some months and the couple was going to look for an apartment for them to share in the same city.

They were stopped at the border where they presented their passports and were invited “in” for further questioning.  They were kept separate at all times.  The young woman was “questioned” for  more than four hours – every time she opened her mouth she was told, Shut your mouth!  We don’t have to listen to your lies.

She was accused of planning to live illegally in the States.  It had been noted that she and her boyfriend had crossed the border frequently, together or separately.  When she insisted she was going to study for a Master’s degree, she was asked for her student visa, which, since it was now still several months before her courses were to start, she had not yet received.  The examiner never once looked at, in fact refused to look at, the documents she had with her from the distinguished university that had accepted her.

The examiner repeatedly spoke to the young woman in the same manner as I have already described.  He continually threatened her with incarceration, and for more than four hours he told her she would not leave that room until she signed a confession, which, finally, she did, sealing her fate:  she would not be going to that university, she could not, in fact, enter the United States of America for any reason for the next five years.

The family and friends and acquaintances – even people who don’t know her personally – are devastated by this true story.  Her father, no less than mine, is a devoted loving hero of no small measure, as is her own warrior-mom.  They fully supported her “appeal” for which they were not permitted a lawyer.  The appeal was denied on the basis of the same “facts” that had condemned her, unblemished by supporting information by the university and a host of others. There is a next step for which she may be represented by a lawyer.  No one has mentioned the cost – one can only imagine.

The couple, twenty-somethings, are strong and beautiful.  They are making adjustments.  They are good people.

When I was a child, Hollywood made it clear that only cowards confessed to deeds they had not done.  Neither torture nor a deal, nor anything in between, could force a person of integrity, a hero, to confess. I’ve seen and heard a lot of true stories more compelling than my own since I was fourteen.  But somehow this beautiful young woman being locked up with a beast who called her names and threatened her relentlessly with jail and worse for hours, triggered those little tales of woe that were so huge to me.  I need to tell her through the world wide web that I embrace her courage; I deplore her experience at the border, and I honour her for the border crossing she has made — from being a beautiful human being with great courage to being an exceptionally beautiful human being with courage, integrity and a great future ahead of her.

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2017

Posted in Cabinet Privé, Eighty and then some..., Uncategorized, Your character is your fate

Swimming in the Infinite Pool of Ignorance, Speculation and Misunderstanding

January 6th, 2017 by elaine

I had a topic all lined up for this week’s post, was running it through my mind for days, and then on writing day I found myself thinking of other things to do first, like, you know, just put a load of wash in the machine, just straighten up a bit, just – oh well, might as well have lunch first.  I’ll make a bit of soup!  Yes!!

Being home alone I filled my bowl and sat down with the New York Times’ Sunday Review, and there I found the very thing I planned to write about brilliantly exposed while I had been telling myself nobody would want to read about “that”.  As  I made my way through it, I realized I had been  procrastinating because I did not wish to expose myself (again!!!) as a neurotic insecure mess when, in fact, it is not just me – modern times has done it to all of us.

The article is by Pico Iyer and it is called What Do We Know? It’s about too much information.  Too much email, very long or very short ones, gives us too much to misinterpret, too much to keep us awake at 3 a.m. wondering what she meant by that “and” and why she never mentioned…….Or why she never wrote back at all.

We have of course, been aware of  this danger [too much information] since the beginning of time….yet we’ve never been so tempted… forget that the  pool of knowledge is limited; it’s the pool of ignorance, speculation and misunderstanding that is infinite.

Mr. Iyer then goes on to give an example of a character flaw that led him down a nasty path.  So I, to be fair, must reveal my own.

I had a dedicated follower of my weekly posts who invariably commented by email, and her comments revealed a commonality to our lives that I had never guessed at before.  I knew her from a context I was no longer part of; we never ran into each other nor had an occasion to get together.  But our online contact was regular and rich, warm and dear to me.

During the summer of the great move from the long established home I share with my husband to a smaller one, I took a break from my website to pack and dispose of what would not go with us.  Books were heavy on the list.  Even though I have always been a faithful library lover, when I had to have a book, I bought it.  Years and years of books were in my possession; I gave tons to charity, and tons to family, some of whom were young enough to not have a place to put them but would not let them go by.  And some of them I put aside for the annual University book sale.  Those were still in their boxes by the door when the final moment for goodbyes was upon us.   My dedicated friend was also dedicated to that particular sale.  I emailed her to tell her I couldn’t possibly deliver the books myself and had not found anyone else to do it.  Did she perhaps know of some students who might be able to come and get them and deliver them?  She emailed back to say there was a rule against picking up books, sorry.

Her response was one I would ponder at 3 a.m. for many months to come.  When I got back to posting my column regularly, I never heard from her again.  Was she offended that I had presumed to ask such a question?  Was she disgusted that I could not manage my life?  (This person is so dynamic, so energetic, so socially generous, well, I cannot find words to describe her daily activities – and she is older than I am!)

Eventually I began to worry about her health, then wonder if indeed she was still living. I sent her an email saying only that I was concerned about her, and had no response. And then I began to explore how I could possibly find out.  I knew no one who I could ask.  I knew she had a daughter in the same city but had no idea what her name was or where she lived.  I felt the full force of the abstract thing called the internet. – how, rather than bringing people together, it isolates us in a new way.  And when it finally dawned on me to see if I could find a telephone number for her and I did, then another aspect of modern life foiled me again: what if I did call her and her phone announced my phone number and she didn’t want to speak to me, and even if the screen had only the number, not my name, what if she didn’t answer phone calls from a number she didn’t recognize?  That kind of thinking you will agree, is really sick!  Pathetic!

Patty Smith, my last post, brought her back.  She wrote as though no time at all had passed since our last exchange, nothing had happened.  I wrote her back immediately, boldly confessing my concerns, not even disguising my fragile state of mind.

Her response came back with a brief subject line: No computer. And then the story, the broken water pipe from the street, the flood, the damage, the never-ending repairs, still, in December, still not back to normal.

Pico Iyer, who is a distinguished presidential fellow at Chapman University and an author, reminds us that when knowledge becomes an end in itself, we gobble it down …. without stopping to consider its source (especially on the internet , I would add),  and that wisdom sometimes depends on seeing how much knowledge doesn’t know and how much every day is shaped by unexpectedness.

Swimming?  Are we perhaps drowning?

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2017

Posted in Cabinet Privé, Eighty and then some..., Uncategorized

Patti Smith, I Hardly Knew Ya!

December 15th, 2016 by elaine

I heard Patti Smith’s performance of Bob Dylan’s song, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, at the Nobel Prize for Literature award ceremony.  I listened twice by myself and twice now with my husband.  I was deeply moved every time and expect I always will be. The next day after I first heard her sing that song, I read the piece she wrote for the New Yorker called How Does it Feel. She was writing about how she felt about her performance, but started with the day she was born, and her first line almost blew me away:

I was born in Chicago on December 30, 1946,

because I was already feeling a tender bond with her, and I was stunned.  How often do you hear a person say, I was born on December 30, no matter where no matter when.  Me, I was born in Milwaukee on December 30, 1929.

I think I know why she started her piece way back on that stormy day in Chicago, although it is certainly not obvious.  I mean, I just know when you are talking about feelings, sometimes you just have to start from the day of your birth because it’s so much a part of the whole story. I bet Patti Smith has told that story many times, because I have told mine many times, probably more than she has because I am older and my oldest sister, who lived to age 92, never ever failed to tell it to me on my birthday every year no matter where I was in the world, by letter if not by phone or in person.

Patti’s story involves a wild snow storm, mine a kind of storm in the very large family that was completely surprised by my birth.  (Second Oldest Sister near tears on the phone to Older Married Sister, Ma’s in the hospital! OMS:  What happened?  I just saw her yesterday! SOS now wailing:  She had another baby!)

Patti’s story was more welcoming than mine, and she expresses her love and appreciation of her parents for their keeping her alive when her life was not to be taken for granted.  I think that’s what gives her the enormous courage she has had all her life to be so creative in her own way and why she needed to call upon their memory after what she thought was a deeply flawed performance.

I have been trying to figure out why I didn’t know her, singer, writer, poet.  I’m not that much older than she is, and I know people younger who do not know her work either.  I favoured Janis Joplin and Buffy St. Marie and Joan Baez and Carol King and Joni Mictchell, and of course the Beatles and Leonard Cohen and the Beach Boys, and wasn’t that her era?

No, she was into “early and obscure”rock and roll in her very creative unique style in the 70′s, just when we moved off to farm in Prince Edward Island.  I’m not sure I would have liked her then.  I love her now.  Just this week I found so much love in my heart for her, I must share!  You must follow this link to the piece she wrote for the New Yorker and click on the link within the piece that takes you to the performan­ce itself, and listen again and again and read her piece again and again and again, especially coming to the end of it about the day after her performance, which goes like this:

When I arose the next morning, it was snowing. In the breakfast room, I was greeted by many of the Nobel scientists. They showed appreciation for my very public struggle. They told me I did a good job. I wish I would have done better, I said. No, no, they replied, none of us wish that. For us, your performance seemed a metaphor for our own struggles. Words of kindness continued through the day, and in the end I had to come to terms with the truer nature of my duty. Why do we commit our work? Why do we perform? It is above all for the entertainment and transformation of the people. It is all for them. The song asked for nothing. The creator of the song asked for nothing. So why should I ask for anything?

There is one bit more that speaks to all of us:

……Looking to the future, I am certain that the hard rain will not cease falling, and that we will all need to be vigilant. The year is coming to an end; on December 30th, I will perform “Horses” with my band, and my son and daughter, in the city where I was born. And all the things I have seen and experienced and remember will be within me, and the remorse I had felt so heavily will joyfully meld with all other moments. Seventy years of moments, seventy years of being human.

Thank you Patti Smith.  You asked for nothing from me, but you won my heart.  That’s how it feels to me.

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2016

Posted in Eighty and then some..., Theatre Reviews, Uncategorized, Your character is your fate

Paranoia or Synchronicity? A Bit of Both Perhaps?

December 2nd, 2016 by elaine

All weekend, and then on Monday, I was thinking about what doctors say and what they hear their patients say.  Reading the sentence backwards is something to think about too.   Say, for example, the doctor says to the patient, This could be very serious and orders some tests be done immediately if not sooner.  The patient hears, It could be cancer.  It could be terminal,  and then, after worrying incessantly, obsessively, perhaps for days, the patient suddenly recalls that the doctor said This COULD be serious, and if she is thoughtful and somewhat logical, she may recall that implied within the words could be is another possibility: could not be, and she is temporarily greatly relieved.

If, then, at some point the patient foolishly shares her brilliant insight with the doctor, the doctor hears:  This could not BE!, and concludes the patient is in denial.

Laugh? Or cry?

On Monday afternoon I received an email from Dr. Danielle Ofri who was excited to tell me about her upcoming book, What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear.


I had met Dr. Ofri at a noon-time program at McGill University where she was the guest speaker. The department that sponsored  these lunch-time talks is devoted to whole person care , so her topic would have been about bringing the humanity back to the science of medicine, being human and seeing the patient as human as well.  She works in a very busy clinical practice at Bellevue Hospital in New York.  It is the oldest public hospital in the United States; its patients come from every corner of the world and speak many different languages. Dr. Ofri’s recently published book, at that time, was aptly titled  Medicine in Translation: Journeys with my Patients; I had read it before I met her, thought it was excellent, and then reviewed it on my website.

We exchanged email addresses after the lunch and  said we would keep in touch. She became a frequent contributor to the New York Times op-ed page and health column, and I couldn’t help but notice how often her pieces paralleled or mirrored what I wrote and posted on my web page.   Interesting, I thought.  We sure are on the same wave length. But when she wrote about how efficiently dog health care works compared with how punishing human health care often is, an unlikely subject I had recently posted on my website, I couldn’t believe there was that much synchronicity on the planet.  I had bad thoughts, paranoia, sick……. for which, since Monday, I apologize profoundly.

I don’t know what Danielle Ofri has written in her soon to be published book, but somewhere therein, I am fairly certain, I will find some insight into why doctors are so negative about serious issues and why I am so vulnerable to joining them in that black pit, and how we can make this better for us all.

Why have I been thinking about this in the last few days?  It has happened to me several times, and perhaps to most people, that the doctor has issued these words or similar ones to me while recommending tests, supposedly to rule out the dreaded serious condition.  Or perhaps just to do the right thing.  So far, in spite of suffering near-death fear while waiting for the test results, I have been cleared of the actual killer condition itself.  Nevertheless, I do wonder if it is really necessary for the doctor to take this approach. Is there not another way?  Could we not give could be/could not be equal time?  Or anyway give could not be a somewhat prominent position, at least a mention? A positive attitude has healing properties; I know from experience.  When the black is lifted, by whatever means, I soar with energy.  The change is immediate and enormous.

Danielle, you said it so well in your email:  What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear – it’s about how doctors and patients communicate (or don”t) and the very real effects on our health.

How about an advance copy for review?  We can send the message around the world!

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2016

Posted in Book Reviews, Cabinet Privé, Eighty and then some..., Health Care, Uncategorized

Like a Kiss in the Night, Finding Words

November 23rd, 2016 by elaine

Last night, almost like a kiss, I got an email from the granddaughter I hadn’t heard from for far too long.  I was in bed, George sleeping quietly beside me.  I was about to put my iPad down on the night table, turn out the light, and close my eyes – then, a wee little flash, her name, a sentence.  Really?  Was it an old email mysteriously popping up?  No, it was totally of the moment coming from across Canada and a bit south into our “dual” country.  She apologized for disappearing, and quickly added, It’s been difficult to find the words to talk about how things have felt since the election.

Indeed! Isn’t that the real reason I didn’t write anything for my blog last week?  The  excuses I made  to myself!  Silly!  I had said what I needed to say  about the election the week before Done!  Move on!  Hmmmn    ….difficult to find the words….of course!

Well, that’s not absolutely true, was the next line in the email. I talk about it a fair amount, rehashing the same feelings of fear and outrage and sadness and concern over and over again.

Yeah me too!  At breakfast yesterday George and I stopped in the middle of it and vowed not to mention the man, the subject, ever again at breakfast.  And then added lunch, and then dinner, and then snacks, and finally NEVER AT THE TABLE.

Didn’t work.  But I am convinced anyway that I didn’t write anything last week because I could not bear to go there one more time.   And so, if I mention his name today it is only to illustrate my wise-old-lady theme: liars lie, they do not keep their promises, and if you forget it, or make an exception, or allow yourself to be seduced, which I fear, from reading the New York Times today may happen abroad in the land starting at the Times itself — you are in great peril.

Here is a personal experience, a little story from the past when I was not yet a wise-old-lady. I was attending a weekend training workshop in a field of psychotherapy (it shall remain unspecified here) where the buzz was intense about one of the participants who had been promised certain benefits by the leading-guru-of-all-time in exchange for certain services (none of them sexual), and had just been informed that the benefits would not be forthcoming, no denial of the services rendered, no reasons given, no redress possible.

Most of us were shocked.  We had not thought the guru so flawed.  We had all idolized him, revered him, recognized his huge contribution to the field of mental health.  Yet we all believed the injured party categorically and felt the betrayal as though it were our own.  All except one person, a person I had known a long time, who still absolutely believed in the integrity of the guru.  But how could you? I fairly sputtered in disbelief. In the face of all the evidence? My friend, who is not a lawyer, replied coolly, I will believe in the guru until he gives me personally a reason not to. (The inadmissibility of third party testimony?)

I was young then and the times were  more gentle in speech if not in actions.  So I did not say, Hey, Buddy, you mean you gotta get personally screwed before you believe someone else was screwed by someone you trust? Where are your powers of observation? I wondered.  Are you blind?  Where is your compassionate understanding?  Do you not have a heart?  Do you mean to say you would believe him if he offered you something you really want in exchange for something you have to give, your time, your work?  Are you stupid?

This story is a marker for me. It came to mind today when I read about the New York Times meeting with Trump yesterday inside the hallowed premises of the Times. The meeting was set up and then he tweeted that he was calling it off because the Times had changed the terms of the meeting, which the Times denied.  Then he tweeted o.k. he’d come. Are we not looking at a bold-faced lie from the get-go?

He who during the election campaign unfailingly referred to the Times as the failing New York Times, at the very top of the meeting said: I have great respect for The New York Times. Tremendous respect. It’s very special. Always has been very special. I think I’ve been treated very rough. It’s well out there that I’ve been treated extremely unfairly in a sense, in a true sense. (There was more – I cut it.)  And when he was leaving he said, The Times is a great, great American jewel, adding a moment later, A world jewel.

The Times remarked about the meeting, the mood of the president-elect had mellowed. And what worries and disappoints me is that it also stated that perhaps there was some hope for the future relationship with the soon-to-be-president of the United States of America.  (I searched for the Times own words in this regard but couldn’t find them – perhaps they already realized their hopes were unrealistic and withdrew them.)

A liar lies, breaks promises, says whatever the listener needs to hear to fall for his/her manipulations.  What an incredible master Trump is at that game.  Perhaps it is inevitable that some generous people will make an effort to look for a good side, a bit of balance, perhaps. But what remains to be seen is what his avid followers will do when his promises, like the guru’s, are not fulfilled. Everyone will be angry – no exceptions.  It will be more than a buzz, it will be a roar.

We are all afraid and sad and outraged and we talk about it too much and we can’t find words to say what we are feeling because we think we have never felt like this before.  But we have – when we were infants without words, when we were powerless and vulnerable.  It is that primitive.

This is no time to regress to infancy!  We have words, we have legs, we have experience, we have courage.  Let’s keep talking, let’s stand up for what we believe, let’s believe in our own experience, let’s keep our fear and use it  – that’s what courage is.  We will need every bit we can muster.  We are not alone — we will help each other. Like a kiss in the night, we’ll treasure our own integrity.

© Elaine A. Zimbel 2016

Posted in Cabinet Privé, Eighty and then some..., Uncategorized

Open Concept, Behind Closed Doors: Donald J. Trump and the 59 Million in the Storage Closet

November 10th, 2016 by elaine

We recently moved from a four bedroom, two bathroom apartment to a one bedroom, one bathroom (both behind closed doors) open concept apartment.  My new kitchen is huge, beautiful, and very efficiently designed; my old one was tiny, beautiful, and very efficiently designed as long as only one person was within its confines.

It didn’t take me long, however, to discover the efficiency in my new apartment is restricted to good layout, lots of cabinets, lots of drawers, lots of storage space, lots of space all around.  The ceilings are eleven and a half feet high!

My tiny apartment allowed me to have my pans convenietly hanging overhead from a pan hanger suspended on a chain; my utility devices (spatulas, ladles, etc) were hanging from hooks under the stove hood; my coffee mugs and even a stainless steel clock to match my stainless steel back-splash were hanging from under my cabinets. You get the picture?  Everything was just a reach away..

Now that everything is in a cabinet or a drawer my pots and my pans are nestled one within the other, five high;  my utensils are scattered helter-skelter in narrow channels within a drawer; rice cooker, slow cooker, griddle, food mixer  - anything large, in pursuit of the clean uncluttered look so important to open concept, is kept on shelves behind closed doors.-

Doesn’t this belie the concept OPEN?  I mean, so much is hidden.

Donald J. Trump, President-elect of the United States of America, probably has never seen the kitchen of Trump Towers or Mar-a-Lago or anywhere he has every lived.  But he has brought everything hidden out into the open – racism, hatred of anyone different from oneself, misogyny (the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls.)

I put the definition there because I had to look it up, no kidding!  At my age and because of my literary background, whenever I see that word (A GREAT DEAL LATELY) I think of Moliere’s play Le Misanthrope (the general hatred, distrust or contempt of the human species or human nature.) Does this mean I had a poor university education, or does it mean that misogyny was in the closet back in the ancient time of my education?  Or did I mistakenly assume that women were included in the human species?

Well, thanks to Donald J. Trump it is no longer hidden.  All that ugly stuff that fell so glibly from his jaw brought 59,904,886 votes from the human storage spaces of dark hearts.  And Hillary Clinton’s 233,404 extra popular votes don’t mean a thing in the electoral system created by the Founding Fathers to insure that the values so importantly enshrined in the Constitution to safeguard a true democracy were not messed up by the common man.

In The Federalist Papers Alexander Hamilton explained how the Constitution of the United States of America is designed to ensure

“that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” The point of the Electoral College is to preserve “the sense of the people,” while at the same time ensuring that a president is chosen “by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.”

By whom he meant the Electoral College….who is?????

Originally, members of the Electoral College were senators who were, at that time, appointed by their state legislatures, not voted into that role.  Which is how the Founding Fathers staved off direct democracy – which they absolutely did not trust.  Now it is mostly party loyalists who are appointed to the Electoral College by the political party to which they belong.

So how do I feel about that – that distrust of direct democracy?  Well, I’m tempted to say today I feel great about it.  But really I don’t because human beings, educated, thoughtful, or not, can still be idiots.

The things I have heard people say in defense of their vote for Trump as President of the United States of America are scary sometimes, expressing hatred of different races, different religions, and fear of immigrants, not the rapists, the desperate ones whose country is racked by war .  Sometimes I hear stupid things like,  He didn’t mean that, it’s just talk. When I read about a tweet issued by a well-known conservative blogger who is “pro-life”

Ann Coulter @AnnCoulter

I don’t care if @realDonaldTrump wants to perform abortions in White House after this immigration policy paper.

12:36 PM – 16 Aug 2015

I simply can’t believe in that kind of human intelligence.

So I am trying, like so many others smarter than me, to make sense of what David Remnick of the New Yorker calls An American Tragedy. And this much I know:  Donald J. Trump’s open concept started way before his campaign for the presidency – it started with reality TV; it gave permission to the guys in the storage room to mouth off rudely, not just in the locker room but everywhere, in tweets and on the internet in the comment sections, no holds barred, in disguise, hiding their name, their face, but never their hatred, their anger, their venom.  They just needed to fill in the circle – a vote for Trump and we know they’re there.

I love my new kitchen.  I love open concept.  I’ll settle for the inconvenience in favour of the clean spacious look.  And I will continue to express my thoughts and deepest feelings to the world openly with my full name, but only the people who read my stuff by invitation will be free to comment – by return mail or when ever they are ready.

You know who you are, and you know who I am too.

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2016

Posted in Eighty and then some..., Uncategorized

Is Fat a Bad Word? The Elephant in the Room

November 2nd, 2016 by elaine

Somebody told me it is.  I can’t believe it!  If fat is a bad word, does that mean people who are fat are bad people?  No?  Well, if people who are fat have a bad word attached to them, how could they not feel bad?  Oh?  So that’s exactly why one should never use the word fat, because a fat person may be within hearing distance and feel….bad?

Is a fat person fat?  If a fat person is not fat, how would you describe a fat person?

Is it o.k. to say a fat person is heavy-set, over weight, obese, chubby, of a “traditional build” (Africa – thanks to Alexander McCall Smith and Mma Ramotse), large, huge, what…..?  Nothing?  Nothing at all?

Is a fat person invisible?

Let’s talk about other bad words, let’s talk about dirty words – like dirty.  When I was three or four years old my playmate Kathleen called me a dirty Jew.  I bit her for that, and there were consequences.  She ran home crying and her mother came to talk to my mother, who was a Jew and she was not dirty, nor was I, but my mother scolded me for biting Kathleen anyway.  I long ago forgave my mother and Kathleen as well, but I have never forgotten this incident.

Last week I was in a very large elevator where, though it accommodated many people of various ages, genders, and stations in life, every single one was wearing a black coat.  It was so compelling, I had to announce it out loud.  Not much reaction, neither positive nor negative, so I assume no one took offense at my use of the word black, yet it is, of course, under certain conditions, a bad word.

Coloured?  Dark?  I have a box of laundry detergent Especially suitable for colored and dark garments. Is it O.K. then, to say a person is coloured?  No?  How about if I say use the term person of colour?  O.K.?

I have a book of nursery and Mother Goose Rhymes, and here’s one of them I know by heart:

Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?

I’ve been to London to look at the queen.

Pussy cat, pussy cat, what did you there?

I frightened a little mouse under her chair.

Are you going to let a vulgar man, by his distortion, his broadcasting of man’s lowest dimension, take a baby’s word away?

If you can’t say the word fat because it is a bad word, perhaps you never recognized how hurtful it is to make a word bad by giving it raunchy associations.  Or perhaps you can’t remember the difference between an insult and a fact, between an observation appropriately considered and a cutting remark meant to wound.

Are fat people invisible?

Is there an elephant in the room, huge, noisy, probably smelly, and incredibly family oriented, generous, kind, and in some cultures the God of Auspicious Beginnings? Embrace the idea of the elephant; hug the fat person of your acquaintance if they like you enough to allow it, and enjoy the human contact we otherwise sacrifice to that ugly word: correctness.

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2016

Posted in Cabinet Privé, Eighty and then some..., Uncategorized, Your character is your fate