Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Vera Tarman

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Dr. Vera Tarman

It's okay, you can tell us — did you overindulge during the holidays? It just feels good to kick back and chow down on those sweet treats sometimes. But why is it that we reach for food as comfort, as social bonding, as emotional proxy?

Dr. Vera Tarman tackles those questions and more in Food Junkies: The Truth About Food Addiction (Dundurn Press). From food addiction to disordered eating, Food Junkies digs into our psychological and social obsessions about food from the point of view of a medical researcher, while incorporating the feedback and experiences of dozens of survivors. It's tough to have deep-seated issues around something you'll encounter everyday for the rest of your life, so how do those with clinical eating issues (or even those with simply complicated feelings and reactions about food) cope and live comfortably? Dr. Tarman guides readers through these issues with humour and compassion.

Today we speak with Dr. Tarman for our incarnation of the Proust Questionnaire, where she tells us about escaping under bed covers, picking a furry friend over an air conditioner, and her very positive personal motto that we'd all do well to adopt.

The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.

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Where Would You Like to Live?
My ideal locations would be to live half time in Manhattan, New York (I love New York), the other half in Toronto, and in Muskoka for two months — preferably in September and October.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
I admire a man who is well read, has a self-depreciating sense of humour and who listens well.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
I expect that a woman will already have the qualities that I have listed above for men. I admire women who are ambitious, independent and who are willing to take risks.

What is your chief characteristic?
Tenaciousness. I attribute some of my successes to talent, but more from my determination to get the job done at whatever cost (i.e. hunger, fatigue, bad mood).

What is your principle fault?
Impatience. I also tend to have high expectations of others and frequently get disappointed. I need to learn how to be more gracious of what others can give and of their strengths!

What do you value most about your friends?
I value loyalty. I also really value a positive attitude toward life. I tend to drift away from people who are negative and critical. I especially like people who are true to their character; I have a lot of friends who are unconventional. I love eccentricity!

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Cynicism and negativity: I don’t see the point of being critical (even if witty) unless an alternative solution can be offered in its stead. I usually don’t enjoy sarcasm. I also dislike it when people do not take responsibility for their own actions.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
My impatience. I get angry too quickly and am quick to look for blame. I try to work on this but it keeps popping up!

What is your favourite virtue?
I am very self reflective and honest about myself. I can also be appreciative and generous with others.

What is your favourite occupation? What would you like to be?
I love being a medical doctor, but I would like to be a full time writer. I have always wanted to write but found it too difficult to work at the same time. To retire from my medical work and narrate my experiences of the front lines in a comedic (yet not cynical) vein would be a great way to finish up my working life.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
The authors who inspired me in my early years were Virginal Woolf, Samuel Beckett, and Dostoevsky. Now my favourite writers are of the lighter variety, such as the mystery genre i.e. Ruth Rendell, PD James, and the Swedish crime writers. I no longer look to be inspired but for ways to escape under the bed covers.

Who are your favourite poets?
Sylvia Plath, TS Eliot, and some of the eastern poets i.e. Rumi.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Getting my pedigree dog, Kasper. I was willed a few thousand dollars right after my medical school training and wanted to buy something that would remind me of the person who had passed away. What better way to remember her than through a dog I would love every day? Even though I needed the money to buy medical equipment and an air conditioner more!

What natural talent would I most like to possess?
To be able to sing in harmony and play piano. I would also like to be able to tell a good joke. I love a good sense of humour.

What are your favourite names?
Max, Rupert, Wolfgang, Kasper. I used to buy pets (birds, fish) so that I could use these names regularly. After many years, I have also come to like my own name, Vera, because it means faith and truth.

How would you want to die?
Quickly, without knowing it. Corny as it sounds, I hope to die trying to save someone’s life. I have to die anyway, so why not in a way that will be helpful to someone else?

What is your current state of mind?
I am grateful that I am approaching the zenith of my career but also somewhat timid about the dawning of old age — so I have a mixture of anxiety and contentment. I am overall very happy: I love my job, my partner, my home and pets and feel I have a strong sense of meaning in my life. I can’t imagine it getting any better — though fear the loss of this as I age.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
That I am now in a position (my current job, my new book) where I can be of influence to help others — hence doing a job that gives me a strong sense of purpose in life as well as also giving me financial security.

What is your motto?
I know this sounds corny too — but every morning I ask: “How can I be of service?“ I guess it is my form of spirituality. This attitude is very stabilizing as it helps me get through my anxieties and my joys — which can both be taxing. As long as I can be of service in some way, I know that I will survive whatever challenge each day presents to me and find joy.


Vera Tarman is a medical practitioner who focuses on addictions. She is the medical director of Renascent, an addictions treatment centre. Dr. Tarman conducts workshops and speaking engagements on the science of food addiction and "comfort food" abuse. She has reached audiences across the world. She lives in Toronto.

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