Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Gabor Mate: is he the real Zoltan Levy?

NEWS FLASH! Yes, I did hear from Gabor, though I was pretty sure I wouldn't. Mostly it was reassurance that I could use any aspect of his personality I wanted for my character. Might as well post the email:

Hi Margaret,

Thanks for the courtesy of reaching out to me on this.

I do not consider that you require either my permission or agreement to publish your novel. On grounds of general principle I hardly think that “I” am in it. Although I’m sure
your take on me does contain aspects of the real me, it’s still your version and hence coloured by your perceptions and reactions. Some of these I have found accurate
over the years, others less so. I would not be offended by whatever image of this character you present.

I don’t have a new book coming out with anything do with concepts of normal, although I am giving a talk locally soon entitled The Myth of Normal. I have been working on a book
called Toxic Culture, very much on hold at the moment. It may or may not surface.

My work life no longer includes medical practice; I do travel and teach/speak a lot, and lead healing retreats with and without psychedelic modalities.

I wish you all best with your publishing project, and trust you are still a happy and proud grandmother.


And now. . . the rest of my post (adjusted accordingly).


If you've had a chance to read the first six parts of my novel Bus People, which I am running as a serial just because I would like to have it see the light of day, you'll note that there is a very central character called Zoltan Levy, a doctor who works on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.

Well, guess who he's supposed to be.

This novel was written in a wild whirl back in 2004, in only about four weeks, though I was quite surprised to find a very neat folder of research today dealing with pretty much every aspect of the novel.  I guess I was not so spinny-headed after all. And this was back when the internet was still kind of tottering along. I found material on Hungarian history, papyraceous twins, facial reconstruction (then in its infancy), cylinder recordings, ailments of the digestive tract (one character has a rather icky obsession with colonic irrigation). . . and many other things besides. I also found a detailed, handwritten outline of the story, along with sticky notes for each character and plot development so that I could rearrange them as the story progressed. Still, the centre of the thing was a character who was a fictionalized version of Gabor Mate, already a celebrated author who is now way more famous than he was then. 

My first contact with him was an interview I did for January Magazine a dozen years ago (the link to it is above). Though he's a dynamic individual, he talks very fast and compulsively psychoanalyzes people (including me) on a dime. When you try to interview him, he will unfailingly interview you. Doing the January thing threw me off-balance, but I have to admit I was fascinated. A lot of this turning-around thing, I've come to believe, is a projection of his own "stuff", which he is actually quite candid about. He has written more since When the Body Says No, most notably In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts which deals with addiction on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. For a while, quite a while in fact, we emailed back and forth. I don't know whether to call him a friend exactly, but there was a time when he'd listen to me, or at least not tell me to go away, when I was in an emotional hurricane and no one else wanted me around. Or so I thought back then. He made himself available, and since I wasn't officially either a friend or a patient, he didn't have to do that.

I think he is a different Gabor now, I honestly do, because he is just a lot more famous, world-famous in some ways, giving seminars and talks and workshops all over the world. I don't think I could put him in a novel now, I mean the present-day Gabor, but then, what HASN'T changed since then?

So what has it been like to go back to this novel, and Zoltan Levy, something/someone I wrote in 2004 and haven't even looked at since then?  I could say it has been pretty interesting, and I could say it has gutted me, and both would be true, remembering the harrowing circumstances under which it was written. Like all the rest of my fiction, it has pretty much failed in worldly terms, if "failed" means "didn't sell". I suppose I couldn't help myself however. It was a novel that had to be written.

(I had to pretty much rework this post from the beginning because after I got the email from Gabor, which I honestly didn't think I was going to get, I didn't think I was being terribly fair to him.  But can I leave my unicorns-and-rainbows gif, just as a reminder that he's spreading the sunshine everywhere? No doubt, in his own rather grim and Hungarian way, he does.)

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