For years I was an avid reader of Vanity Fair magazine. As is/was my habit with print magazines, those near-dinosaurs of modern publishing, I would flip to the last page. And the reward was worth it: the Proust questionnaire. In which a celeb of some ilk would answer the 35 questions immortalized by the French novelist and critic in 1890.
What fun to read about Ricky Gervais’ idea of perfect happiness! Or to know what Joan Didion regarded as the lowest depth of misery. The answers to these questions give you a glimpse inside a famous head that I always find fascinating.
Why Proust? I found the following explanation here.
In the late nineteenth century, the confession book was all the rage in England. It asked readers to answer a series of personal questions designed to reveal their inner characters. In 1890, Proust, still a teenager, took this questionnaire, answering the questions with frank sincerity. The original manuscript was uncovered in 1924, two years after Proust’s death, and in 2003, it was auctioned off for roughly $130,000. (Credit: Open Culture)
That Marcel Proust went on to become one of the most influential lights of French literature and thinking probably explains why the questionnaire bears his name. Interestingly, it provides the basis for many modern media interviews. And writers are encouraged to use it as a way of getting to know their characters.
A year ago I bought a copy of Proust’s most famous work, À la recherche du temps perdu, or Remembrance of Things Past, as part of a project to do the reading list of a self-driven MFA. That project remains, ahem, in development, but I still intend to read the original text in French. In the meantime, I have decided to seize the opportunity to interview myself. Here you go with my answers to the Proust questionnaire.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
An empty morning.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
What is your favourite journey?
Anywhere on a boat in Switzerland.
On what occasion do you lie?
To make someone less uncomfortable. Mostly about little things.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
WTF, c’est pas possible, merde, hurry up, sorry (like a good Canadian).
What is your greatest regret?
Older self: loss of hearing in my left ear; younger self: not learning to read music.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Language, my family, beer (not necessarily in that order).
When and where were you happiest?
Alone, as a child, talking to nature.
Which talent would you most like to have?
To be able to multitask.
What is your current state of mind?
Time is running out.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Not killing anyone.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Constipation (physical or otherwise).
Where would you like to live?
Right here in Switzerland (yet, in a twist of magic realism, minutes from my family around the world).
What do you most value in your friends?
Listening and loving me anyway.
What is your most marked characteristic?
An opinion on most things.
Who are your favorite writers?
Barbara Pym, Anita Brookman, John Kennedy Toole, Carole Shields, Alice Munro, David Sedaris, Andrew Sean Greer, Patrick Dewitt, to name a few.
Who are your heroes in real life?
I don’t believe in heroes but Volodomir Zelensky comes close.
What is it that you most dislike?
Cruelty of any kind.
How would you like to die?
What is your motto?
Keep it real.