October 19th, 2016 by elaine

I was driving in the centre of town with my 22 year old granddaughter who is a university senior, when we came to an intersection where a yellow light was about to change to red.  We stopped, and just then, on the intersecting road to my right I noticed a young woman on a bicycle wearing a black and white striped flowing summer dress which, thanks to a strong breeze, as she picked up speed crossing the intersection, filled discreetly with air making it look like a huge striped ball was driving the bicycle.  It was very funny!  Look at that fat girl on that bicycle! I exclaimed to my passenger.

And my passenger replied, in a tone I had never heard her use before, GRANDMA!

Oops, I guess I said something wrong, something incorrect.  I felt terrible!!  I have been girlfriends with this young woman since she and her slightly older sister were very young giggly girls and they invited me to be one of them.  I think I may have blurted something like, It was so funny! and if there was any further conversation during the next few minutes, it was not about fat.

It was not until a few weeks later that I heard, for the first time ever, the term fat shaming.  It was all about you-know-who and his attitude towards women.  You know the list of nasty things he said, but that fat thing brought back my granddaughter’s voice, and I felt bad, so bad for having disappointed her – perhaps for the first time in twenty-two years.  And, I confess, when I suspect I am in the wrong, I become defensive.  (Most people do, they just don’t admit it.)

Me?  Fat shaming?  I hardly know where to begin….not at the beginning.  I’ll save that for last.

I belong to a generation of women, thanks, perhaps, to Hollywood movies, who were almost always on a diet or going to start one tomorrow.  We always needed to lose five pounds, we told each other, never guessing the unspoken comment: hey, I think you should go for ten or more. There was always a new fad diet to try, and there was always tomorrow.  Fat people in those days were just normal fat people.  One almost never saw a person who was huge, obese, except in the circus, and I never went to a circus when I was young.

I belong to a generation of women who were allowed to gain a mere twenty pounds in pregaancy; the doctor’s nurse, an extremely authoritarian figure, would blanche, click her tongue, and scowl if at the fifth month weigh-in a diligent mother-to-be had gained two and a half pounds since the last visit.  (I long ago learned that the fifth month is normally a big gaining month, but I didn’t know it then.)

I belong to a generation of women who look in the mirror and say to anyone looking on, Does this dress make me look fat?

Does this recitation claiming innocence make you think instead of a bad attitude toward fat?  Does a girl’s desire to be slim imply disdain for those who are fat?  (If you said yes, I am not talking to you.  Turn the page.)

And speaking of Slim, let us now get back to the beginning….when I was very young that was the nickname given to my sister who was just a wee bit older than I was by our oldest brother.  And I, the one with the chubby thighs, he named Fat. Did I cry when he called me that?  I don’t think so.  I think I knew he loved us both.  I think I knew it was a joke.

And that’s what makes me so sad….the picture of the fat girl on the bike, her dress filling with air was like an illustration one might see in a childrens’ book and smile, perhaps laugh out loud.  How delicious to share that moment with someone.

People, be careful that you don’t lose your language.  Be careful that you don’t buy into the language of correctness, by which you abandon words that might have served you well for most of your life.  Fat is not a bad word.  It is a reality, same as slim. Shaming is something that comes out of a black heart full of hatred, knowing no respect; it belongs to ignorance and fear.  It seeks to wound, defame, humiliate, destroy.

Don’t let people twist reality to protect a victim or a class of victims from wounds that are clearly meant to wound.  Don’t buy that protection, it’s like an insurance policy that doesn’t pay up and claims it never meant to suggest it would.

Don’t let those correctness folks take all the fun out of life, the innocent fun, the moments that make you smile or laugh out loud.  Don’t let them get away with it, don’t let them censor your words, your joy, your capacity to live with your eyes open and your tongue wiser than they would ever know.

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2016

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

Locked out!!

October 12th, 2016 by elaine

It happened twice since we moved in July to our beautiful new place. Our place is a former coach house artfully transformed into an open-plan living space surrounding one closed bedroom and one closed bathroom all on one floor close to Mother Earth, includes a wonderful terrace and a tiny little forest, and is just around the corner from a busy street with lots of shops and restaurants.

The first time I got locked out of my new home, I went out the French doors onto the terrace, closed the door behind me and couldn’t get back in.  I thought it was a safety feature, that the door would automatically lock.  Nice, I thought.  And then I realized the main door was locked as well, and I didn’t have my keys or my cell phone. Fortunately, I had just spoken with George who was on his way home, so I knew I wouldn’t have a long wait.  But still, there was somewhat of a desperate feeling!

So I learned my lesson and was very careful either to take my keys whenever I went out onto the terrace….for a while….and then I didn’t do that anymore, just made sure the door was blocked somehow so it couldn’t close unexpectedly…..and then I didn’t do that anymore either, just sort of kept my eye on it…..except one day when I was very very mad at Lily, our poor aging pet who, in spite of having spent a long time going in and out independently as she has learned to do, then went in to do a poo instead of out, and I let her know she had erred so definitively that I must have created a huge breeze when I took her out…..and the door closed behind me, she having avoided my wrath and escaped back inside.

No keys, no phone, and I had just seen the landlord drive away not ten minutes before.  Eventually I found someone who had the landlord’s cell phone number and phoned him and he, it turned out, was just around the corner, and he did indeed come back to rescue me.

I was terribly embarrassed, and I immediately determined that I was going to have two keys made for the two doors I needed to get into the main part of the building and then into our apartment.  I would hide them in a plant on the terrace or in the little forest, and by golly, I would never be locked out again.   And so, with the cooperation of my spouse, the keys were eventually made –  and did not work.

When I was calmer and more rational (days later), I examined the door, the front, the back, the lock; and I ascertained that it was not the lock that was causing the problem, it was either the inside handle (round) which was loose, or the outside handle (fancy big thing that you had to press real hard with your thumb), or both,  because no matter how hard one pressed, it wasn’t hard enough to completely retract that little thing that goes into the slot on the other part of the door frame.

Do you get the picture?  Well, I thought about this for days, and I said to myself I would go to the locksmith people nearby and return the keys that didn’t work.  But no, better still, I would call them up, not mention the keys that didn’t work, and ask if someone could make a house-call and come and fix the problem.  I didn’t care how much it cost, and I didn’t care if the landlord would reimburse me or not, although I would ask him after the fact.  (After years and years of home ownership and condo administration, I am not sure how to be a renter.)

With one thing and another, I didn’t get around to making that call.  Instead, I found myself walking right past the locksmith shop one pleasant day in Fall, went in, found a set-up that looked very similar to the one we had at home, and I told the man exactly what the problem was.  And he looked me right in the eye and said, Bring it in.  I’ll see if I can fix it. (Please note:  the conversation is being conducted 100% in my second language, French).

Bring it in? I asked. incredulous.  How would I do that?

Just unscrew the two screws on the handle and that’s it.

Ladies and gentlemen, I thought: if this man can look me in the eye, me, a white-haired person of a certain age, and seriously think I can do this, then I think I have to do this.  That’s it that’s all

So I walked the two short blocks to my home, let myself in by the usual entrance, found my good screw driver, nervously unscrewed the two very long screws, found the round handle in my hands, a big whole in the door through which I could see another piece going all across the hole and out the end of the door with the recalitrant notch sticking out the side.  Obviously there was more to this task than I had been prepared for.  For sure I needed to get off the huge fancy part on the outside of the door, and perhaps also the thing that was all across the big hole.

I will not bore you with further details, particularly not the scary parts.  I will simply say I got everything off, I put all the parts in a bag, walked back to the locksmith’s place.  He didn’t seem the least bit surprised to see me…or the parts.  He replaced a screw, handed me the bag and said, It will work now, and I said, Uh, if I get it back together again, will you give me a job? and he smiled just a little bit.

Then I took out the keys that didn’t work, expecting to give him a nervous explanation of why I thought they didn’t work, but he took one look at them (he was not the person who had made them) and said Of course they don’t work.  These are the wrong keys.  These are the right ones, and picked up identical blanks to the ones I already knew would work.

He made the new keys, charged me nothing, and wouldn’t accept anything for his labour for fixing the troubled door handle.  I went home, not exactly bursting with confidence, but somehow, well, if that man had so much confidence in me, perhaps I could have a little too.

I did it!  It worked!  All is fine.  And I boasted to my nearest and dearest, Isn’t it amazing!!! I fixed the lock!! noticing, as I spoke, a certain lack of interest on the part of the person I was speaking to, I added, Actually, it wasn’t the lock at all, it was the outside door handle!!

Yeah, said he, great.

And he didn’t charge me anything at all, zero!

Great, he said once more.

The next day I couldn’t wait to tell the second nearest & dearest who dropped by, Hey, I got locked out on the terrace that time, remember, and I fixed the lock, I had to take it off and take it to the shop and put it back together…..Isn’t that amazing?

Mmhm, said he.

Well, he was busy doing something else, moving boxes or designing spaces….Nevertheless, somewhat later, when I thought perhaps he was more able to focus, I said, uh, you didn’t seem impressed that I fixed the door thing.

And he said yeah, sure he was.

It’s really hard to get a little credit sometimes.  That’s all I can say.  I guess I’ll just have to keep it to myself, keep it locked somewhere inside – hey! I’m amazing! Just because that man in the shop looked me in the eye and said bring it in, I did it. And I will be locked out never again!

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2016

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


September 28th, 2016 by elaine

George and I used to be news junkies.  Now, one of us might say to the other as the minute hand approaches the top of the hour, “Wanna hear the news?”  And the other one might say, “Uh, not really.”

Or watch it in the evening?  “Uh, well, I guess.” Or “maybe “, or “NO! Not tonight!”

Sunday mornings we listen to a favourite CBC show on the radio.  Last week the host did his essay, sometimes it’s angry, sometimes funny, sometimes…..scary!!  And then he announced the morning’s guests.  The first one is going to warn us about sand.  Not that it gets into your swimsuit or your sandwich, that it is BEING USED UP!!  And the terrible consequences.!! – not that our granchildren’s children will miss the fun of playing in it or on it – oh never mind – I’m not going there!

See, they just can’t bear to tell you any good news.  Even bad news is off the table…now it has to be DIRE!!!!!!

Then, last week,  there was the one about super bugs, the ones no anti-biotic exists to fight against, and the doctor looking terribly worried announcing that every single day now “we see a case like this”……DIRE!!!!

No, I will not discuss these things further.  I will not tell you what I heard about sand because I didn’t ask “What about sand?” and neither did you.  But I heard it, the DIRE!! part, and then I turned it off.  Sunday morning. a lovely fall day, shot to hell….and it is Wednesday and I still can’t get it out of my mind, about sand.

And Aleppo, and starvation, and bombing aid vehicles….and what gets me so MAD is the sound track, they have to have a sound track of bombs going off and guns cracking and people screaming, and then the narrator signs off, “This is so and so in London”.  London?  He/she wasn’t even there!  So what’s with the soundtrack?  Is it live?  Is it taped?  Is it from the library, not from Aleppo?

I’m not stupid, I know they need to do that, play that sound track.  I know they have to because every news channel is doing it and it would be so boring – in this digital age – to just speak the words.  Who would listen or watch….oh yeah, I forgot to mention the clips, the visuals, the smoke, the fire, the flood, the blood, the dead bodies, little kids in war to break your heart.

It’s been going on for a long time.  It’s the name of the game.  Because, you know, people have access to so many sounds and so many pictures, so many videos of life today.  And life today is all about sudden death, terrifying events, and be careful not to call it simply “terror” – they are not, apparently, the same.  Oh, and then there’s slow and certain death too, of course.  That never goes away;  sometimes it comes too quick, and for some suffering people, not quick enough..

And people losing their jobs and the rich getting richer.  Did you hear/see Elizabeth Warren nailing that top dog at Wells Fargo – would you believe his name is John Stumpf (rimes with trump) about the two hundred-and-some million dollars he made on his company’s crooked dealings? http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/markets/2016/09/28/sen-warren-rips-wells-fargo-ceo-again/91217740/ She was great wasn’t she?  And he only blinked once, I saw him.  Otherwise he was stony-faced, thinking about his two-hundred-and-some-million that nobody is going to take away from him.

The world is a terrible place, isn’t it?  The USA is in terrible shape, isn’t it?  Donald Trump says so and he oughta know, he’s a smart billionaire who pays no taxes because he doesn’t like the way the government spends its money.  Actually, I doubt if he’s a billionaire and I know he isn’t smart.  But a lot of people differ with me on all that.  The world is indeed a terrible place.

It’s terrible in whatever way you happen to see it….sand or super-bugs or climate change or bombs or bullets or cancer or starvation or babies drowning on the way to being saved from any of the above.  They, the news readers, they tell you all the terrible things that already happened and they tell you all the terrible things that are going to happen, and they never tell you what you could have done to prevent it or what you or anyone on earth can do to keep the sand where it belongs so you can put your head down under it and shut off the news before it gets worse, because you were helpless before so what does it matter that you are helpless now.

That’s pretty grim, isn’t it?  It’s called “reality”.  Listen, CBC, CNN, FOX NEWS, all of them, they’re  all the same, they are just trying to keep up with the times, and they know how to do it -  just like the Donald knows.  They know people have to look when something bad happens, they have to listen when they hear it’s going to get worse.  That’s natural, but it is not reality.  No quotes around the word: in reality there are good things and bad things.  Reality is balance.  A steady diet of DIRE!! will make you ill.

I choose to refuse!  I will not listen,I will not look.   I will enjoy myself more, not less. I will not worry about sand, I will not  bury my head in it – I will sit on it!  Stretch out on it.  I will go to where the ocean comes up and kisses it….one of these days.

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2016

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

He Was Always Like That

September 20th, 2016 by elaine

This is a true story.  I have changed the names of some of the principals, that is only fair, but the “I”, that is truly me!!

Sylvia and I have been friends for a long time.  We met in a psychodrama workshop when we were both young mothers-with-husbands, our children old enough for us to think once again about our chosen profession, psychotherapy.  We lived in different cities but were close friends forever, shared complexities about patients, husbands, children, parents, all that stuff of life.

Recently we got together for four days at her cottage on a beautiful lake, just the two of us, our “elderly” husbands both busy with their respective careers.  Charlie, her husband, is a noted psychoanalyst, now well over 80, and mine is a noted photographer, same age.

We were sitting on the dock the second day after a great swim when Sylvia said, “Know that classic joke about the two psychiatrists who are passing each other on the sidewalk…..?

“Yeah”, I laughed, “and they say “Hello” and continue on their way, each of them muttering, “Hmmmm, I wonder what he meant by that?”

She laughed too, and then told me that Charlie, besides having the physical problems he’d been having for several years, was now starting to worry about memory loss and slowing down, and a lot of stuff that could be “old age” or more serious.  Loads of tests about his physical problems over the years have led to some medication and lots of pats on the back, “You’re doing fine for your age.”  Referral to specialists invariably led to the same non-diagnosis.   If Charlie hadn’t considered the possibilities of “deeper” explanations, it wouldn’t be a surprise – the “analyst”  is usually the last one to call it.  But Charlie had good friends in the field and good referrals from his good friends, and if none of them had caught on to something like that, my friend Sylvia would have, that’s for sure – it’s a natural side effect of being married to a psychotherapist.

So when their family doctor one day told them about the Geriatric Institute affiliated with the University that had a rounded program that looked at “the whole person” – it sounded just right. There were more specifics of course, but Sylvia didn’t need to describe them to me.  We both know what “a whole person” is.

Charlie was accepted into the outpatient geriatric clinic for evaluation.  Sylvia was encouraged to come along with him for that first long appointment where he would be guided by a nurse through the process:  first a long interview with a medical doctor who would take his complete medical history; then he would meet with a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist, and a neuropsychologist who would introduce him to their pursuits.   Charlie and Sylvia were both a little leary of this whole affair; professionals in the field of mind/body therapies, they felt on the one hand pretty knowledgeable, and on the other, in “geriatrics”,  except for their own sort of stumbling into the field by the numbers, “80 and then-some”, they were a little less informed.

“Everyone was great”, Sylvia said.  “Warm, caring, uh — perhaps a little too mindful of our ages.”

“I know!” I said.  “They speak loud and slow and offer you a chair too quickly.  I get that!!”

We laughed.

“That first day was mostly in-take – you know, how long have you had this…..and have you ever….., I call it fishing.  We were introduced to the team, and Charlie was totally o.k. with the deal.  He was able to schedule his next visit on a day he didn’t have any patients, and he went by himself.  Those sessions, evidently, were mostly instructional – safe ways to get around your own home, out there in the world, stuff like that.  Some tests too, on paper, you know the kind, they’ve been around for years.

The next time he was scheduled for a “practice” with the occupational therapist.  I don’t know if they called it that, it’s my word, but whatever it’s called I was invited, and I was glad to be there; it gave me an insight I had been missing for my entire long marriage.

Wow!  What happened?

We went up to another floor where they have a “play kitchen”.  This is the real deal…they aren’t just asking, can you make breakfast, old fella?,  they need to see for themselves.  So here’s the coffee maker, here’s the frying pan, the eggs are in the fridge, oh, and there’s the toaster, etc.  And I can see that Charlie is really nervous. No confidence whatsoever in the kitchen.  It was his mother’s domain afterall…and then mine, of course.  He is of a certain era, you know. Never mind that he makes the coffee as often as I do, or that he truly can make scrambled eggs, and  believe it or not, toast is a no-brainer.

So he’s got the coffee going in the little electric coffee maker.  And he’s half way to doing the toast, and he’s got the eggs in the pan, and goes to the little old four-burner electric stove and absolutely can’t figure out which dial turns on which burner.  The therapist is watching, the wife is holding back a scream, and Charlie loses it:  THIS IS RIDICULOUS! he announces, and puts the pan down on the little sink and walks away!

The therapist is trying to soothe him, to tell him it’s o.k. he doesn’t need to be upset.  She sounds like me with better control.  Charlie IS upset. This test is over, that’s for sure.  And what does it prove?  That the noted psychoanalyst, still practicing at age 84, is incapable of functioning on his own?  I could list 22 other possibilities here, and all of them would be true, no matter how one contradicts another.

The next visit was with the neuropsychologist (huh?  a what? – did we miss something in our training?) and whatever happened in there, I was not allowed in.  I did meet the lovely person, later, and I did have a chance to tell her, just standing there in the hallway, that Charlie in that “play kitchen” was the real Charlie, the one I have known for years – He has always been like that, I said.  And she said,  A lot of women say that.  That doesn’t mean anything.

Hmmmm, I said to myself, I wonder what she meant by that.

I have played that tape over a million times:  did she say that, or did she say, it doesn’t matter, or it doesn’t count, or it’s insignificant?  Did she actually discount the most significant fact of my marriage, that he has always been like that?  If it’s a cognitive failure or problem or deficiency, or disability, my god!  He is to be congratulated for his success in life, for how he has managed to function so well all these years.  To escape without a label.  To fool everyone, himself included, and even his wife, his one wife of all those years.

All those years I didn’t know…..as a young bride I would remind him, sweetly. a million times “the garbage bags are in the second drawer on the left” or “I am right-handed, my coffee cup goes on the right.”  I went through waves, storms of resentment, anger, bitterness, disbelief, rationalization, and analysis, defining him, depending on the page I was on in my studies, as totally self-absorbed, hostile, mean-spirited, anti-feminist, insecure, a phonie, you name it.  I didn’t see it.  I blamed myself more often than I cursed him, but I  never dreamed his brain was not the same as mine.

At the Centre there were other little “play” tests I witnessed that confirmed I had mistook my husband, not for a hat, as Dr. Oliver Sacks described one of his patients, but for a mean selfish bastard who was brilliant in his field, affable and well loved in society, but at home was “the bane of my existence” – that’s the cliché that came to mind, and wow – look it up*, it fits perfectly.

In the end our family doctor got a copy of the final assessment and so did we (I insisted) .  She said there wasn’t much in it we didn’t know already, and she’s right….because the neuropsychologist, who is concerned with how the brain and the rest of the nervous system influence a person’s cognition and behaviors, is too young or too closed-minded to value the brains of all the little old ladies who tell her He was always like that.

Bravo Sylvia.  Let’s raise a glass to all those wise little old ladies!

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2016

*the bane of my existence - Something that is so disagreeable with your spirit that it feels like its existence might negate yours.  This goes further than “hate,” and implies that you and the object in question are sworn enemies.  Can be used seriously or, more likely, exaggerated for comedic effect.  (Urban Dictionary)

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

Thin Skin, Me and Bill

September 13th, 2016 by elaine

Yesterday I was applying a moisturizing cream to my skin, feeling enormous gratitude for my dermatologist who had prescribed it (even though it was an over-the-counter product) because it worked like magic!  Really!  “Use it once a day”, she said, “all over your body, your face included.”  Some things I had been concerned about disappeared after one application – I am not kidding – and others improved as time went by.

Perhaps the magic was the “placebo” effect; you know, you get better on a suger-pill thinking it’s the real thing, or you get better as soon as you make the appointment to see your doctor, but who cares?  It works.

For some reason yesterday a thought occurred to me as I was laying it on,  not a nice thought, a really cynical one, out of the blue.   I thought, “What if my dermatologist has a financial investment in this product (it says on the jar Developed with dermatologists), what if she is one of the ones……”

I was immediately ashamed of myself – is that the kind of person I am?  And defensively countered that ugly thought with, “It’s a statement of the times we live in.”  That didn’t work too well, but fortunately another thought took its place: “What if she invented this very product?”  And then, “Well good for her, that’s a different story!” And then I wasn’t so sure if it was different or not.  If she is benefitting financially from my buying this product and I am then rapturously recommending it to my best friends, is that not a bad thing?

I thought about it the whole time I was applying this wonderful stuff, thinking it looks like the “cold cream” my big sisters always had small jars of when I was growing up.  It doesn’t, however,  smell like that stuff, and it has a different feel to it.  And….then I realized I was just trying to distract myself with thoughts of my youth and very early years.

O.K. I know it.  It’s not news to me that I was always “thin skinned” – hypersensitive, subject to wailing when teased, could never tell the difference between an insult, a constructive criticism, a life lesson, and a joke.  And so when they laughed…it was too late, I was wounded.  I cried.   Only the fact that I KNOW this (after years of therapy – getting and giving)  do I have the “balm” to soothe those ancient barbs.

So I turn the table on my bad thoughts and now conclude it is NOT a bad thing if my dermatologist is benefitting financially from her genius and her hard work and her caring.  It is a bad thing if she is NOT benefitting financially!  That would be yet another example of universal-woman being taken for granted, mother-earth-doing-what-comes-naturally, bless her heart.

And that’s where Bill comes in.  Bill Clinton.  Just the day before I had these thoughts, I read in the TIMES that after managing to stay on message most of the time, after not messing up his wife’s campaign for the presidency of the USA, last week Bill lost it.  He was deeply offended by the blatant accusations that the Clinton Foundation, which has been the dearest project to his HEART in the past 15 years since it began, is crooked.

If you go to their website https://www.clintonfoundation.org/, you will find information about the Foundation’s goals and the work it is doing throughout the world.  The Clinton Foundation’s mandate is to Create Partnerships of Purpose, not just a fancy phrase – it’s the way it works: they convene businesses, governments, NGOs, and individuals….and together they do the work, one hand supporting the other.  The Clinton Foundation mobilizes the inspiration and the energy and brings  money to the table from all these sources, and the work gets done where it is needed, when it is needed.

If you google the Foundation instead of using the direct link I mentioned above, you may find the link to the Foundation’s own website (I did) – but you will have to search for it in a sea of horribly bad publicity.  The good stuff will not be mentioned.  Instead you will find a roiling sea of hate and calumny.  And it may make you sick.

I have never been a deeply commtted fan of Bill Clinton but I felt for him when I read about his hurt. Thin skin, whether it is real or a metaphor, leaves one open to serious wounds.  To have someone or something you love misrepresented maliciously with the calculated intent of doing harm to that entity is extremely painful.  I congratulate him for speaking out, for dropping his scripted remarks in favour of  protesting the insults, the suggestions of evil, the outright unsupported lies of crookedness, cheating, and self-interest.

I have read the charges, I have not seen any finanial statements.  I believe it may well be true that the Clinton Foundation will take money from any government in the world regardless of its human rights record, and I believe that money will be well-spent to do what they have set out to do: to improve global health and wellness, increase opportunity for girls and women, reduce childhood obesity, create economic opportunity and growth, and help communities address the effects of climate change.

Perhaps I should apologize for describing the trivial path from my magical moisturizing cream that soothes my thin skin to current events that have global consequences, but I think I won’t.  There is something to be said, after all, for “remembrance of things past” and measuring these against the present.  Isn’t that what psychotherapy is all about?

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2016

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

“Resilience” is Just a Word – It Can Make You Laugh or Squeeze Your Heart to Pieces.

May 16th, 2016 by elaine

The Blue Metropolis Literary Festival 2016 brought me to milk and honey, poems by rupi kaur.  I didn’t go there to hear her, but there she was, and now I have her book.  It is black and it is beautiful with white letters and two bees sketched, I suspect by the author, in white on the cover; her name is also in white printed like this: rupi kaur.

The top of my desk is black too, yet there is no chance in the world the book will disappear because I have read it and it is in my heart, and when I heard rupi speak at the session on “Resilience”, I was deeply touched.  I met her at a reception afterwards and I just wanted to hug her and tell her she was a beautiful person.  But thank goodness I didn’t, because I don’t think she would have liked her true deep and soulful beauty to be pointed out.  I didn’t know it then because I hadn’t yet read the book but perhaps I felt it somewhere inside of me.  Would she have recognized that when I said “beautiful”, I was not referring to any superficial look, however actual it is?  I can’t be sure.

milk and honey is a book of poems with line drawings.  I’m fairly certain the drawings are her own.  I couldn’t find any credit given for them, nor any ownership, except, and I searched and searched and just barely found it in “about the writer”:  rupi kaur is a writer and artist…..throughout her poetry and illustrations….” Draw your own conclusions.  That’s exactly what she would expect you to do, I suspect.

If you look on the back cover, also black with white letters, you will find a description of the book:

this is the journey of
surviving through poetry
this is the blood sweat tears
of twenty-one years
this is my heart
in your hands

this is
the hurting
the loving
the breaking
the healing

– rupi kaur

Would I change a word of that, would I attempt to rearrange them somehow so you would think they were mine?  Are you crazy??? Would there be any purpose in my telling you the book is divided into those four headings?

Every page is like that, some just one-liners  spread out to capture my attention and strike me in the heart – the dedication:

the arms
that hold me

I would quote more, but it would not be fair to her or to you.  What’s more, the accompanying illustrations are inevitably a double whammy; see, for example a page in “the loving” section — an illustration of an easel with a blank page on it, the poem above and to the left, four short lines, 19 words, and I hear myself say outloud, “Oh my God!”

rupi kaur is twenty-three years old.  She gives beautiful readings, her book of poems is a huge success, I mean so huge it is in a class by itself.  She was told that for a poetry book to be successful, it had to sell 5000 copies.  milk and honey, she says, has sold over 200,000.  These are her figures, and while I have not been able to verify them, I believe it because if I had a lot of money I would buy a bunch to give away to people I love.

“Resilience”, the event, presented a panel of creative people, writers among them. So I thought, this being a literary festival, it would be about rejection….like, how many times can a writer tolerate being rejected?  How many times do you get a no from a publisher and just carry on to the next publisher.  I’ve heard extraordinary stories of resilience in this regard – the writer whose book was rejected 45 times before it was accepted and went on to be a best seller!  Just the other day I read about another that was rejected 28 times before this book was published and went off the charts. As a writer, I guess I am gutless – I think I never lasted into two digits.

But “resilience” is currently a hot word and it is not about rejection – it is about real suffering that one faces with courage and “grit” (another hot word) and ultimately is a better person for it, a   successful person who gets to inspire others to hang in there too.

I don’t like “hot” words; I don’t go for popularity, celebrity, mass consumption of ideas, best sellers.  I’m a snob.  I attended the session on Resilience because one of the presenters is a very dear, very funny friend of mine who sometimes makes me laugh so hard I can’t breathe.  Lyne Tremblay’s mother-tongue is French, and when she moved to Toronto at age 19 to pursue her dancing, voice, and acting talents, she hardly spoke a word of English.  Some years later she is fluently bilingual with a delicious twist of Mrs. Malaprop.  A friend of hers has collected a string of her bon mots and put them into a monologue too funny for words about her resilience – from eight shows a week singing and dancing in “Cats” all the way to cabaret singing in Paris, to acting in films.  Tough life, you say?   Well, really!  Lyne says she is nervous about flying -I sit there on the edge of my pants and really get worried when the hostess starts explaining the flirtation devices.

Others had their stories too, but not until rupi kaur had her turn to read and speak her poems did I really feel grateful for the wonderful gifts I received from these two women and the Blue Metropolis Literary festival.  Thanks to all of you who made it a success, with special thanks for Resilience, for Chantal Ringuet and friends on Leonard Cohen, for Michael Enright and Jay Parini on Gore Vidal, and for the many I missed.  See you next year!

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2016

Posted in Book Reviews, Eighty and then some...

The Prohibition that Nailed You to Your Childhood Can be Replaced with a Wiser One

May 4th, 2016 by elaine

My last piece was about a little book I found called On THE PLEASURE OF HATING, a distinguished piece of writing from the late 18th or early 19th century by William Hazlitt.  Mine was a gentle effort made in the hope of sharing a pleasure I did not give up in childhood or ever after, naughty or nice.  But many of my readers, it seems, did give it up. They were taught, as I was as well, that hate is a bad word, or at the very least, one that is not nice.

Hate, my friends, is a feeling, it is not merely a word. Every child knows that feeling and most children know the word that describes it.  Every child hates being foiled, being denied something that is so desired living without it is unimaginable, the very thought unbearable.   AND the child cannot imagine any reason it might be denied.  None.  The absence of an acceptable reason is as unbearable as the denial itself, and all together this is huge!

If an adult has the experience, the knowledge, the faith, the strength or some other “coping device” to endure this feeling, the child does not.  The adult who has buried forever this experience of childhood and has made the word that names it something ugly and mean that belongs to ugly and mean people, is limited.  In fact, in our times of “correctness”, because hate is a word aligned with things we deplore, like racism, we are all prohibited from using it.

But some time ago I came across a poem by John Donne who was born in London two hundred years before William Hazlitt.  Way back then, almost 500 years ago, “The Prohibition” meant something else entirely when it spoke of love and hate with equal measure.

It begins;

Take heed of loving me,

At least remember, I forbade it thee;

The language is difficult in places, and even the carefully edited version I own does not attempt to clear up some of the mysteries.  Perhaps we don’t need to understand every line – I think its deepest meaning is clear even though, I confess, I forget over and over again.

The Prohibition

by John Donne


Take heed of loving me,

At least remember, I forbade it thee;

Not that I shall repair my unthrifty waste

Of breath and blood, upon thy sighs, and tears

By being to thee then what to me thou wast;

But, so great joy, our life at once outwears,

Then, lest thy love, by my death, frustrate be,

If thou love me, take heed of loving me.

Take heed of hating me,

Or too much triumph in the victory.

Not that I shall be mine own officer,

And hate with hate again retaliate;

But thou wilt lose the style of conqueror,

If I, thy conquest, perish by thy hate.

Then, let my being nothing lessen thee,

If thou hate me, take heed of hating me.

Yet, love and hate me too,

So, these extremes shall neither’s office do;

Love me, that I may die the gentler way;

Hate me, because thy love’s too great for me;

Or let these two, themselves, not me decay;

So, shall I live thy stage, not triumph be;

Lest thou thy love and hate and me undo,

To let me live, Oh love and hate me too.

Here’s how I try to say it in my own words:

Be careful of loving me,
At least remember, I told you not to
Not that I would be vengeful and reciprocate
Being to you what you were to me;
But our love is so great a joy it greatly strains our life,
Then, so that your love won’t be frustrated by my death
If you love me, be careful of loving me.

Be careful of hating me,
Or too much triumph in the victorie.
Not that I shall engage in a war
And retaliate with my hate against yours;
But you will lose the style of conquerer,
If I, your conquest perish from your hate.
Then, so that my being nothing won’t make you nothing too,
If you hate me, be careful of hating me.

Yet, love and hate me too,
So neither of these extremes shall cause my death
Love me, that I may die the gentler way,
Hate me, because your love is too great for me;
Or let these two, themselves, not me decay;
In this way I shall live to love you as your partner not your victim.
So that your love and hate won’t destroy me and you as well,
To let me live, o love and hate me too.

Key word:  careful, be careful how you love and how you hate.
Be alive.  Be real.  Love truly and love well.
Hate truly and let it pass.

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2016

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

On The Pleasure of Hating

April 18th, 2016 by elaine

On The Pleasure of Hating

by William Hazlitt (1778 – 1830)

Some time ago I was cruising the sale tables of a real book store, not the kind that sells candles and sweet smelling stuff that overpowers the smell of paper and ink – I don’t go there,  when my eye fell on a beautiful little book with the title named above.  I was startled.  It looked so distinguished, it was so neat, ivory in colour, embossed printing, and towards the bottom of the cover were the words, also embossed:  G R E A T  I D E A S with an embossed and decorative frame around them.

I looked around to see if anyone was watching me, and I picked it up to examine it more closely.  Below the title in small red embossed letters were these words:





I bought it.  It is only 119 pages and yet, I haven’t got through it in all these years. Recently I gave it another try;  I started from the beginning with a story called “The Fight”.  It’s very well written, quite light-hearted, perhaps even amusing, but you know, there’s so much stuff to read these days.  It is not the kind of fight that has anything whatever to do with hating, as far as I can see.  It’s a professional fist fight or something.  So I skipped to the very last story (story?),  the one called “On the Pleasure of Hating”, but I didn’t get very far with that one either.  I’m not sure why.

At the time I bought this beautiful, mysterious little book, I was full into my practice of psychotherapy.  My training, my heart-felt devotion, was to the kinds of therapy that help people acknowledge their worst feelings, their very worst.  Because it is absolutely essential to self-knowledge to be that honest with oneself.  But that was not a popular concept, not  then, nor is it now.  In fact, the word “correctness”, applied to every social endeavour, is so powerful these days life tends to be quite boring; our behaviour, our language is so restrained, sometimes we feel unreal, paper-thin, shadow-like.

Even as I write these words, I think how everyone, even polite British Ladies in the movies (Judy Dench and Maggie Smith) can say the F word plain out and as indignantly as they please.  I say it myself, a word that for more than half my life did not exist in my vocabulary.

It strikes me that little children have no trouble what-so-ever with the word HATE.  I HATE YOU! they shout when they are deeply moved, usually when they are denied something they desperately want.  They say it to their mum, their dad, their siblings, their friends, it explodes from their being.  And of course, they are immediately cautioned: You mustn’t say that!  You don’t mean that! And they will insist, YES, I DO MEAN IT!  I HATE YOU!

Who has not admired the vehemence of that declaration, the depth and honesty of that childish emotion?

Eventually we learn our lesson.  We say it only when referring to an inanimate object, a politician, a snake or a spider, anything remote, nothing personal.  We do, however, sometimes feel it very personally indeed.

Sometimes I hate my husband, and, though he may deny it, he hates me too.  When I hate him, it is a powerful feeling, and indeed it seems immortal.  That’s the hard part.  That’s the scary part. I don’t shout it like a child, I don’t tell him then, but  sometimes I tell him quietly when the feeling  is no longer alive in me.

Now at last I’ve turned to Hazlitt’s final words and while a part of me says, “Whoosh, he’s having a bad day!”, another part congratulates him for his courage, I salute him!

In private life do we not see hypocrisy, servility, selfishness, folly, and impudence succeed, while modesty shrinks from the encounter, and merit is trodden under foot?….What chance is there of the success of real passion?  What certainty of its continuance?  Seeing all this as I do, and unravelling the web of human life into its various threads of meanness, spite, cowardice, want of feeling, and want of understanding, of indifference towards others and ignorance of ourselves – seeing custom prevail over all excellence, itself giving way to infamy – mistaken as I have been in my public and private hopes, calculating others from myself, and calculating wrong; always disappointed where I placed most reliance; the dupe of friendship, and the fool of love; have I not reason to hate and to despise myself? Indeed I do; and chiefly for not having hated and despised the world enough.

You have to know the other side of this man to praise him, as I do, for this GREAT IDEA.  It is GREAT indeed; and so I urge you to offer yourself this pleasure sometimes, this pleasure “so oft denied” to grown-ups in this phoney age of “correctness”, false civility, meanness, hypocrisy, want of feeling, want of understanding, indifference towards others and ignorance of ourselves….write it down, own it; there is truly some pleasure in hating.

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2016

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

“Kramer vs Kramer” et al

April 11th, 2016 by elaine

The current issue of Vanity Fair has an adaptation from a new biography about Meryl Streep.  It’s quite long, and while it started out with a sort of gossip column tone, it got more interesting as it went along. In fact I have found it quite compelling for what it says about Ms Streep and the film that “made” her career, Kramer vs Kramer.

She was just three years out of the Yale Drama school where theatre, not films, was her thing, and she was relatively unknown. She may have landed the part because she was sort of plain by Hollywood standards, and the movie wasn’t about her character – it was about a man whose wife leaves him and their 7 year old son – just walks out.  Hey!  And he’s faced with the quandary of having to take care of the kid AND make a living in the super-heated Manhattan advertising business.

The film is based on a book with the same title.  I haven’t read it but from the article I’m reading it seems the wife is kind of ditsy, insecure, shallow and self-absorbed.  I’m not remembering the character that way at all  – in fact, I remember her being largely absent.  And I am puzzled by the fact she won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for that part.  It becomes clear, reading the article, she commanded the role, she made the wife and mother into a real living breathing human being.  Her name was Joanna.  It could have been Elaine…

So it’s Saturday night and we’re home and I say to George, “I’d love to see Kramer vs Kramer again, would you?” and he says, “Sure”.  iTunes Store, thank you very much!

The film was released in 1979. I saw it then, of course.  Seeing it in 2016 was a gift, a trip back in time so real, so acute, so poignant, perhaps I should shout Free at last, free at last, thank God I’m free at last!

It has taken that long, all those years, for me to finally understand and to be okay with the fact that it may not be clear to anyone else.  I did not leave my son, as did Joanna; I did not leave my children, as did Nora in Ibsen’s “The Doll House”; I did not leave – I couldn’t.  I loved my children, I loved having them and being with them.  I loved reading to them, I loved the way they dealt with me, the things they said to me and about me, I loved how perceptive they were.  I loved the way they revealed themselves to me, I loved getting to know them, who they were, who they were becoming.

I did not love who I was, I did not love who I had become, a slave, a rag,  words my mother would use when she told a story…I wrote a short story and gave it that title. I only remember that much.

Dustin Hoffman plays the husband/father – we see him at work, how important it is to him, the deadlines, the deals; he comes home and can’t wait to tell his wife about the possible promotion or some big deal thing, and so he doesn’t see her, he doesn’t see that she is sad, half-dead, frightened by her decision to leave, she tells him she’s leaving and he’s so busy talking he doesn’t even hear her, she repeats it, finally he hears her.  He says, “What did I do?”


She tries to tell him she’s dying inside, she doesn’t know who she is, who she has become, she can’t stay….he exclaims, defensively, things like “I’m working hard for this family!”  (some people would say, “I’m busting my ass for this family”) and the implication is, of course, that she doesn’t appreciate it.  She is selfish and ungrateful. There is something wrong with her.


Been there.  Whether it was said or not, I heard it inside my own head.  There’s something wrong with me.

Why didn’t I leave?  I’ve wondered…I know now, I do know.  I just put it into words on the page – I loved my children and I loved being with them….it’s just that I couldn’t accept that, even though their father loved them too, and they loved him, HE could pursue his other interests as well, but I could not. (Alice Munroe could, why couldn’t I?)

I couldn’t figure it out, why I was depressed.  I contemplated reality, I compared my life’s journey with his: grew up hundreds of miles apart but same culture and same religion; attended school in the same stages all the way through university.  Graduated same year.  Didn’t know each other yet.  I went to France on a scholarship and teaching assistantship, he started freelancing in New York and then went to Germany with the U.S.Army.  I returned to live and work in New York City.  I worked in Program Typing at CBS typing radio commercials about Maxwell House coffee – (millions of tiny flavour bubbles – yikes!) until I was saved by the United Nations who called me for a job.

We met, we married, I retired from my job “to write” – that was the plan.  Neither one of us with a job, I took my pension rather than leave it to grow, so we could survive.


And then I got lost in the post Eisenhower era where the guys talked about their exciting careers and the ladies talked about diaper rash and recipes.  SAVE ME, oh Lord, take me away from here.

Kramer vs Kramer is all about the dilemma a MAN has when he has to take care of his child and also his job.  The contrast with contemporary culture is acute – now it’s mostly women who have the career and the kids, sometimes single-handed, sometimes with a man who shares, more or less. But that is not what this film is about. This film is not about inequality, it just takes it for granted.

Still, Kramer vs Kramer is a very good film.  There are some false notes – when the father tries to explain to his little boy why his mother left, he is not real, he is absolutely not real.  I know no man who would say it was all his fault, he was too busy, he didn’t notice how “sad” mummy was, and all that.  Never!  You may fill in what he would actually say yourself.

And when Joanna comes back to claim her son, when the father and son have bonded, and the audience feels what a terrible wrenching thing it would be for them to break that bond, the wife is supposed to be seen as selfish and self-absorbed. (Not by me.) There is a custody trial, a judge must decide.  Joanna is on the stand and her lawyer asks why she wants custody of her child.  The director, who, along with the author of the book had written the answer to the question, did not really think it worked.  He said, according to the article in the magazine, it sounded like a man writing what he thought a woman would say – so he asked Meryl to see what she could come up with for a reply. She was 29 years old and not yet a parent, but she did come up with a very moving statement. I have my quarrels with it in some respects, but there is no doubt her delivery is extraordinary.

She begins “Because he is my child. And because I love him”, and she goes on too long but with great emotion after that.

The woman who goes to work in the morning, leaves her kids at the day care, which did not exist when my kids were little, doesn’t get to hear them say a new word, a long complicated sentence, or anything they might sing or say or do or want or need during her working hours; that woman wouldn’t have today what I had and cherished some time ago, and I didn’t have what she has today, a salary, recognition for having a valued role in society, a title perhaps, a feeling she is a person in her own right.

I have no regrets.  I love my children, I love the people they are, the adults they have become, the children they have produced and with their partners, new and former, cherish.  I love what I have done to deserve them, I love what I do and the life I share with their father even though he never saw how sad I was and wouldn’t change a thing even if he could which he could not.

Morning after thoughts about Kramer vs Kramer

I was too delicate when I said “there are some false notes” in the film  Kramer vs Kramer.  Yes the father’s “story” to the child about why the mother left was patently false to my ears, but the scene where the devoted father runs several blocks to the emergency room of a hospital carrying his bleeding child in his arms, indifferent to the traffic on at least two very busy streets (I recognized them  – I know them well), hearing the screech of breaks as cars seek to avoid killing our hero who is proving his profound love for his little boy….uh NO! I think that was pure Hollywood garbage designed to clinch for us that devoted father image and remind us of the irresponsibility of the neurotic, absent mother.  But then, perhaps that is what made the movie so good for me – it sure confirmed the male bias that still exists on this planet today in the year 2016.

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2016

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

“Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” YES WE CAN!

April 4th, 2016 by elaine

Shortly after the middle of March I had an epiphany, my thinking changed, and the whole rest of my life has changed as well.

I think of it as “a sudden realization” , and it was,  but an epiphany doesn’t  happen without a whole lot of ground work coming before it.  Like a scientist working diligently to find a cure for something and doesn’t find it but finds something extraordinary just the same, something she couldn’t have looked for because she had no idea it existed or was even possible.  Sometimes it is just there, right there, and she didn’t see it, perhaps no one  did.

In December I had another birthday.  There are certain birthdays that are more significant than others – like 30 or 40 or 50…but for me those numbers were no big deal.  I remember 31 however, Wow!  I was not just 30, I was 31!!! OMG!  Somehow or other the 0 is nothing more than a big pond, a dip in the pool of life, hey feels good.  The 1 is a dash of ice water – you are really on the other side.  Uh-oh!

And then 2, 3, 4, 5, you get used to it.  For me being 85, all last year until almost the last day of December was a dip in the pond.  And then, being 86 was the ice on the branch that could crack at any time.

It seemed nationally, universally agreed upon.  It seemed I was hearing it from friends, from the family, from the internet!

Have you filled out your mandate of final wishes? (No forced feeding, no feeding tubes, no insane surgery, no extreme medication, no resuscitation….nothing thank you!)

Did you consider where you will go when you can’t do the stairs?

Who will help you when you can’t get to the bathroom?

Did you fill out that mandate yet?  It’s really important.

And then the loving suggestions about housing from dear ones….(I won’t go there…)  I won’t make light of it, it is really really important.  All that stuff.  You read about it, you see it on TV, you hear about it from friends.  Be prepared!

I felt like I was being rushed down the slippery slope of the rest of my life.  And I said NO!  I said DON’T RUSH ME!  I said, I HAVE A WAY TO GO, BACK OFF!  Or maybe I don’t.  Who knows?  We just assume, don’t we?  We assume we will be around for a while, around and, dare I say, in tact?

In 2011, 14.9% of Canadians 65 and older were living with Alzheimers and other dementias.

YIKES!  Cool it, people, cool it. Let’s see if we can put that another way:

In 2011, 85.1% of Canadians 65 and older were totally free of Alzheimers and other dementias. YES!!!

So I made up my mind I would change my ways – I would get rid of a whole bunch of stuff I didn’t really need, historical and other; I would clear it out, get rid of it, lighten my load, make some space in my home, simplify.  And I actually began to do it.  I couldn’t believe it was me.  Shredding and making piles of clothes to give away, whisking it all into delivery systems.  It felt terrific.

And then other things occurred.  And I realized I had some mental house cleaning to do as well.  I realized there was stuff in there I did not need to haul around with me.  Garbage, Out!

I have to say, sometimes it is easier to give away a dress I loved, the sweaters I made, than it is to let go of the stinking human garbage that surrounds my tender feelings.  But I am determined.   And I feel lighter, more open to joy, ready for fun, for new adventures.  It’s amazing!  I feel so free I remembered a quote I put in my quote book when I was a mere child:

Freedom comes with the decision; it does not wait for the act. William Faulkner

George, too, he’s all for it, for us to be free together making our way boldly, at times gingerly, down that slippery slope. (This sounds very romantic, and perhaps it is.  But part of my sorting and cleansing process includes the necessity to be real and to be honest, and the truth is I hate the assumption that “romantic” is a special quality that does not include fighting and swearing and name-calling.  If it does, then exclude us from that category, PLEASE!)

We have put the beautiful incredible apartment we have loved so much for twenty-five years on the market.  We have almost for sure found an incredible place to rent – though make no mistake, the rental did not precede or immediately follow the listing.  We made our leap into space, as we have done before, risking that we would -  like the squirrels we scream at on our back balcony, find a limb to cling to and not fall.

YES WE CAN talk about things more pleasant, have another adventure, be the people we are….as long as we know who, exactly, we are!
©Elaine A. Zimbel 2016

Posted in Cabinet Privé, Eighty and then some..., Health Care, Uncategorized, We Don't Talk About That...