Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Proust Questionnaire

[This blog's new header photo is a panoramic view of the Milky Way.]

Today is my 48th birthday -- a good time to fill out the The Proust Questionnaire, from Vanity Fair:

"The Proust Questionnaire has its origins in a parlor game popularized (though not devised) by Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist, who believed that, in answering these questions, an individual reveals his or her true nature."

The list of questions, empty, are at the end of this post.

Here are my answers:

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
good conversation, in bed

2. What is your greatest fear?
being trapped with someone who won't stop telling me about their furniture

3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
deplore? not the right word, but I wish I weren't so good at self-doubt (the useless kind)

4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
deplore is too strong, but the overweening self-confidence of people who have nothing to be so cocky about really bugs me. Probably because I'm jealous.

5. Which living person do you most admire?
this week, Stephen Colbert, for his speech at the Washington Correspondents' Dinner, which I just discovered, three years after the fact

6. What is your greatest extravagance?
brightly colored, over-designed toothbrushes

7. What is your current state of mind?
it's my birthday! the sun is aligned with me! me, me, me, with balloons! Soon I will be given large amounts of cake! So, guess.

8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
requesting "no presents"

9. On what occasion do you lie?
sometimes when strangers ask me, "How did your mother die?"

10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
my little toenails are kinda creepy

11. Which living person do you most despise?
Robert Mugabe.

12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
I have always admired and been in awe of men's ability to move substantial pieces of furniture. Is that a quality? Anyway, I like that in a man. Oh, it's "most like in a man." OK, then, I most like it when a man is willing to cross the street to help some stranger move a hefty piece of furniture, and then to do a little celebratory silly dance (or silly walk) when he crosses back across the street again.

13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
The ability, on a road trip, to share with you a whole box of ice-cream sandwiches (could be a bag of Cheetos, if you prefer) bought at a gas station and to talk deeply from the heart about film history (or an equivalent topic) at the same time, while driving long distances at a stretch. I can't think of the name of this quality, but it's tops in a woman.

[note: I don't really care if these qualities are held by a woman or a man--or in any particular order. Someone who dances across the street, for instance, to share their ice-cream sandwiches is good by me.]

14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
"Maybe I already told you this..."

15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
what: the alphabet
who: Captain James T. Kirk.

16. When and where were you happiest?
One summer evening at twilight when I was thirty-four, walking alone back to the flat where I was staying while attending the Patristics Conference at Oxford University, I walked into the warm, spicy scent of jasmine--a cloud of scent from a cascade of blossoms hanging over an old stone wall--and a swell of pure happiness rose up within me.

17. Which talent would you most like to have?
I would like to have the talent of an Olympic horseback rider. (huh. that's a new one on me.)

18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would like to sustain more energy of the ginger, garlic, and red pepper type in my being. (I have energy more like a watermelon, usually.)

19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
The time I reached down in myself, got over my self-doubts, and dared to offer help to someone who was suicidally depressed, even though I barely knew her and I was badly frightened and I felt like an idiot. But it somehow, by the grace of god, I guess, became clear to me that I was as qualified as anyone else by dint of being another human being. And besides, there didn't seem to be anyone else at the time. This took place in a black-asphalt parking lot, under the summer sun, at the zoo.
And other times like that.

20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
an otter! (in a wildlife preserve with no poachers and lots of nice fat eels) That's not a person or a thing, but I'm sticking to it.

21. Where would you most like to live?
on a riverbank

22. What is your most treasured possession?
the packet with the glow-in-the-dark Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock "stick 'em on your bedroom wall" figures, which a kind vendor at the Las Vegas Star Trek con gave me for free. It's hanging on the wall near my bed, near the framed sketch Bink drew of Simon carrying Jesus' cross, my other most treasured possession, so if there's a fire, I can save them both!

23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
being the helpless witness to other people's pain

24. What is your favorite occupation?
firefighter? Or does this mean, "What's your favorite thing to do?" In which case, my answer is: think about stuff.

25. What is your most marked characteristic?
thinking about stuff

26. What do you most value in your friends?
their generous hearts

27. Who are your favorite writers?
Pema Chodron--for her gentle, incisive Buddhist wit
John Donne--for his twisty spiritual sexiness
Molly Ivins--for her big, gutsy, hilarious perspective on life among Homo sapiens (specifically Homo politicus). I still miss her.
Sven Lindqvist--for his smart, condensed, personal prose, along geopolitical/historical lines

28. Who is your hero of fiction?
Richard Parker (the tiger in Life of Pi)

29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Saint Augustine (the 4th century North African one)

30. Who are your heroes in real life?
The guy who drove the city bus I came home on today. The bus was super crowded, everyone was crazy, and/or old, and/or lugging babies in strollers and/or many unwieldy bags (I was in the last category). The bus driver, a middle-aged guy with a Middle Eastern accent, who looked like the pudgy, worn-down, less-handsome brother of Omar Sharif, was unfailingly patient and polite with each and every person. For instance, when a crazy wobbly old man with grocery bags got on, the driver did not pull out of the bus stop until the old guy chose a seat--which was the third seat someone stood up and offered him. (Most drivers do not wait, believe me.) When I got off, I said to the driver, "You are very kind," and he looked both weary and gratified as he said, "Thank you."

31. What are your favorite names?
Adeodatis, the illegitimate son of St. Augustine. The name means "given by god."
Alexandra. My mother said she thought about naming me that and I always kinda wished she had.

32. What is it that you most dislike?
eating chicken livers! They make me gag. My parents used to make me eat them anyway, so the other thing I most dislike is people forcing other people to do things that make them gag.

33. What is your greatest regret?
Oh god. One winter day in third grade, during recess, some girls beat up another girl in my class--not badly--and pushed her into a pile of snow. She lay crying there in the snow, and I saw her, and I did not go over to her. I remember being ashamed of myself even at the time, and I think that memory is a motivation behind any action I take that requires me to be brave and offer someone comfort or help. I even remember this girl's name. I am so sorry, Eva Saunders-White. I hope you're having a really wonderful life.

34. How would you like to die?
"like"? Some of these questions need to be rephrased. I would "like" to die without fear. I am keeping some Captain Kirk energy in reserve for this eventuality.

35. What is your motto?
"No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
--Samuel Beckett

What? That's it? Gee, that didn't take long. When do I get the results that tell me what my answers reveal about my true nature?
While I'm waiting, I'll go rustle me up some cake!
________________________________
Answer the Proust Questionnaire!
I haven't seen this as a blog meme, but I think it'd be fun if everyone who reads this fills it in too. Go to the link up top to copy the original questionnaire. you can also read famous peoples' answers (though mostly they're pretty slight, I thought).
No, wait. Here, I may as well post the questions:
1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
2. What is your greatest fear?
3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
5. Which living person do you most admire?
6. What is your greatest extravagance?
7. What is your current state of mind?
8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
9. On what occasion do you lie?
10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
11. Which living person do you most despise?
12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
16. When and where were you happiest?
17. Which talent would you most like to have?
18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
21. Where would you most like to live?
22. What is your most treasured possession?
23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
24. What is your favorite occupation?
25. What is your most marked characteristic?
26. What do you most value in your friends?
27. Who are your favorite writers?
28. Who is your hero of fiction?
29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
30. Who are your heroes in real life?
31. What are your favorite names?
32. What is it that you most dislike?
33. What is your greatest regret?
34. How would you like to die?
35. What is your motto?

11 comments:

Annika said...

Good morning, my dear Fresca! (Not sure about the time difference, but I think it must still be quite early where you are.) And Happy Birthday!
I wish I could bring you a present, if only a long e-mail or something in that vein, but I'll have to settle for a wealth of virtual hugs. I hope you'll have a wonderful day with an abundance of love and good food!

Jennifer said...

Happy birthday! For my (probably belated) present, I shall do this meme sometime. :)

You have definitely scared me out of ever talking about my furniture again. Uh, not that I do, really.

Your happiest moment and biggest regret balance each other beautifully with their intense detail and tangible emotion. They're beautifully written. I will have to think a bit on these...

Rudyinparis said...

Happy birthday, dear one!

fresca said...

Good morning Astronave Nation!
How nice to wake up to birthday wishes--blog comments are among the best presents. (Really.)
I'm off to eat and frolic and not think about furniture (but Jen--too late: I know you have a beige couch!).

I love you, heroes!

barrett said...

Happy Birthday my dear Fresca - and - courtesy of Neruda:

"The earth has known you for a long time now:
you are as firm as bread or wood;
you are a body, a cluster of absolute substances;
you have an acacia's gravity, the weight of a golden vegetable.

I know you exist, not only because your eyes fly open and shed their light on things, like an open window -- but also because you (are) molded in clay, you were fired. . .in an astounded adobe oven."

Eat lots of cake (maybe peach shortcake?)

Much love, Barrett

Darwi said...

Happy Birthday!
And thank you for the questionnaire. I'll definitely fill it out!

Venus Doom said...

Loved your answers to numbers 1, 2, 6, 12 and 13. I like your style of writing. Might have to give this questionnaire a go myself.

Rudyinparis said...

Wow, Barrett, way to pull out the perfect Neruda poem!

deanna said...

Wishing you a most happy birthday, Fresca. I hope there've been lots of balloons and really good cake.

momo said...

Happy birthday week! May I say that in the short time I have known you I have discovered that it is absolutely to be expected that you would give us all a gift on your birthday? You are such a wonderful writer.

fresca said...

Barrett: I am a golden vegetable! Can't go far wrong with Neruda, so far as I'm concerned.
Darwi: I loved your replies. Fascinating! I hope more people will fill it out, too.
Hi, Venus! Thanks for dropping in.
Deanna: You are a darling to send me a Captain Kirk e-card!!!
Momo: What a nice thing to say. Thanks.