17 January 2007

Proust questionnaire

M asked me on the phone this evening (he's in Strasbourg) if I had updated my blog, and since I hadn't, I thought of this questionnaire. (Or, as the new term for these things making the internet rounds has it, meme.)

This is a questionnaire that, despite its name, Proust did not invent. Rather, he himself fell prey to its questions, twice during his life. I've seen it in various places on the internet, and as a feature in Vanity Fair magazine. I think the questions are interesting, and so here is my attempt to answer them, as spontaneously as possible.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Any of the following, even better in combination: sun, my husband nearby, a good book, delicious food, a warm blanket, all of my family together, making music, the Sunday crossword.

What is your greatest fear?

Fire, i.e., a house fire or being trapped somewhere that is on fire.

What historical figure do you most identify with?

Hard to say. If it's someone famous, it's sort of hard to "identify" with him or her, given the "famous" part. And there are tons of writers, musicians, artists or thinkers who I am tempted to think I "identify" with, but that's entirely based on their art. For example, I "identify" with Haydn because he wrote happy music, and Bach, because he wrote geometric and profoundly religious music. But I'll go with Wilson Snowflake Bentley, the man from my home town who discovered that no two snowflakes are alike. I've spent a lot of time with him, writing a series of poems about his life and in his voice. I suppose that's the closest I've gotten to identifying with anyone historical.

Which living person do you most admire?

The people I admire the most I know personally, because I know firsthand what is admirable, but I wouldn't be able to choose just one because I admire different people for different things. Teachers, family members, and friends would be on the list.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

I care too much about what other people think. It sometimes makes me avoid expressing my opinion, makes me more concerned about being "nice" than being true, and makes me not try new things; it limits boldness and honesty.

What trait do you most deplore in others?

Self-pity. My mother used to make us snap out of being whiney by telling us to say, "I am a poor, unfortunate child" with a straight face. We could never do it. There are people I would like to do that to.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I don't have many, I'm actually a bit of a penny-pincher. Travel, I suppose. Planes are expensive money-wise and eco-wise. Oh, and possibly books, although I love libraries and don't like to own a book that I haven't read.

On what occasion do you lie?

When someone asks how I am, and I tell them I'm good, even when I'm not.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?

Thick ankles. Pointy nose.

What is your favorite journey?

Driving north up into Vermont, feeling the mountains surround me. Or, any journey bringing me home to M.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Niceness. That said, I'm always being nice.

Which living person do you most despise?

Is it a cliché to say George W. Bush? For helping turn America into the country the rest of the developed and undeveloped world is shaking their heads over, at the very least. But I don't know him personally, so it's hard to judge.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

I'm going to go with punctuation on this one: parenthesis. In Catalan, I'm sure I overuse plenty of phrases, as my vocabulary is smaller.

What is your greatest regret?

I don't have any regrets that merit "greatest regret" status. I regret smaller things, like losing touch with friends, not finishing projects or plans, not writing more.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

My husband.

When and where were you happiest?

My wedding day. Although, it went by so fast that I could barely absorb it all. Maybe the day after, when there was tranquility and time to absorb, and M and I sat in the dusk with a bottle of champagne, overlooking a pebbly mountain brook.

Which talent would you most like to have?

Impromptu eloquent speaking; thinking on the fly, out loud; to be a fascinating conversationalist.

What is your current state of mind?


If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I would like to be less lazy. I wish I had unending energy and didn't procrastinate or sleep in late when I shouldn't.

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

That it not be so unique; i.e., that more people have the experience we did.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be?

So far, I haven't had the desire to make another go; I'm happy living this life, and don't quite believe in reincarnation.

What do your consider your greatest achievement?

Degrees, my poems, translations. Learning Catalan to the point where I sometimes think in it.

What is your most treasured possession?

Practically speaking, the laptop. In aggregate, my books and notebooks. Because they're still new and exciting, some of our wedding gifts, such as an original sculpture by an artist friend, engraved pewter napkin rings, a handcarved Vermont wooden bowl... But any of these are just things, and things are ephemeral.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Philosophically speaking, self-hatred. Practically speaking, poverty, war, oppression.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Height. Walking down the street in Bloomington one sunny Saturday, a strange man broke away from his female companion, strode up to me, and said, "Damn, you IS tall!"

What is the quality you most like in a man?

Curious, lover of beauty, honest, spiritual, articulate, confident, happy. No need for "manliness."

What is the quality you most admire in a woman?

Curious, lover of beauty, honest, spiritual, articulate, confident, happy. No need to be "girly."

What do you most value in your friends?

Joy in life, curiosity about the world, love of words, ideas, beauty. Compassion. Down-to-earth-iness.

Who are your favorite prose writers?

Willa Cather
Annie Dillard
William Faulkner
Ernest Hemingway
Virginia Woolf
Louisa May Alcott
Eudora Welty
Mark Twain
Irene Nemirovsky
Merce Rodoreda
John Steinbeck

Who are your favorite poets?

Muriel Rukeyser
ee cummings
Rainier Maria Rilke
C.D. Wright
Wyslawa Szymborska
Paul Celan
William Blake
Elizabeth Bishop

Who is your favourite hero of fiction?

Antonia, of My Antonia
Robert Jordan, of For Whom the Bell Tolls
Jane Eyre, of Jane Eyre
Jo March, of Little Women

In what country would you like to live?

In many different countries.

What are your favourite names?

The names of people I've loved.

What is your favorite color?

Any shade of blue.

How would you like to die?

I would choose something like my grandfather's death, after a long life: surrounded by family, surrounded by song.

What is your motto?

Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.

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