Not just another Meme: The Proust Questionnaire

(Stolen, with thanks, from Lightchaser (who wrote the intro).  Well, and from Proust, of course, who made it famous, even though he didn't invent the questions)

Proust filled this out twice, once at 13, again at 20. I wonder what differences he noted in his personality and what he made of them.

Because this questionnaire is actually important to anyone seeking to understand what they are made of, my answers are as follows. Read if you like, and borrow the questions if you will, but I write this primarily as a chronicle for myself.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Warren Zevon said it best on David Letterman's show.  Zevon was dying of cancer, and Letterman asked whether he had any great wisdom.  Zevon replied, "Enjoy every sandwich."  If I can enjoy the most mundane things–a ham sandwich, eg–I think I'm doing okay.

What is your greatest fear?
Discovery, then implosion.  I feel like my entire life has been a tenuously built house of cards, and that eventually, my ruse will be exposed, and my world will implode into itself.  I nearly imploded once, and I try to be better, but the fear is still there.

What historical figure do you most identify with?
Probably Robert E. Lee.  Toward the end of the Civil War, his forces were ragtag and battered, his supplies gone, but he still kept going as best he could.  I just hope I keep battling to the best of my abilities, in good times and even when all seems lost, and then have the grace to surrender honorably.  (note: I'm not one of those Confederate apologists with a rebel flag in my pickup truck window.  Our local PBS station keeps rerunning Ken Burns' "The Civil War" late night, and I keep it on in the background.  I've never really considered this question, but Gen. Lee fits.  At least tonight.)

Which living person do you most admire?
My parents.  They are the two best, most generous people I know of.  They have always practiced what they preached.  It's distressingly rare to find somebody who does that unerringly.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Laziness, first, followed by fearfullness, and my insecure megalomania.  I think I probably know best, but I'm too damn scared and lazy to do anything.  I'm only half exaggerating.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Arrogance.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Eating out instead of cooking for myself.

What is your favourite journey?
Driving home from my grandparents' old house in Ft Oglethorpe, Georgia.  Ft O is a world I love, a small town in the shadow of Lookout Mountain.  It's surrounded by Civil War battlefields and forests.  My mother's ancestors are buried there.  It's a hilly, slow, less crowded world than my own.  From there, you drive through low mountains and hills till you reach the gigantic sprawl of Atlanta.  It takes an hour or so to traverse one end to the other.  After that, the hills gradually thin out, then you hit Florida, land of my father's family.  I probably have relatives buried in each county I drive through–more of my past.  Then I hit Tampa, and I return to my life.  My bustle, my streets, my warm, sultry salt-kissed air.  It's a long day's journey, both mileage wise and mentally and spiritually.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Loyalty, when it's used to excuse misbehavior. 

For what fault do you have the greatest tolerance?
Misguided generosity.  Some people develop generosity into an ego-boost, doing good things for positive reinforcement (accolades, eg, or recognition).  It's annoying, but at the end of the day, their fault makes the world better.

On what occasion do you lie?

To spare someone's feelings, assuming it's no big deal.  "Do you like my new ring?" "Um, sure.  It's lovely." Then again, with the concept of Clintonian Truth, I'm not really lying: "I DO like your new ring, in that your new ring–even though I think it's hideous–makes you happy, and I want you to be happy.  Plus, you didn't ask me whether I thought your ring was pretty." Lots of half-truths and little twists, but I don't lie on big things, not anymore.  I spent way too many years living a lie.


What do you dislike most about your appearance?
I have always been too heavy.  I was 10 lbs 15 oz when I was born, and I grew from there.

Which living person do you most despise?
People with misguided zealotry, who use doctrine and ideas as justification for horrible acts in an effort to force others to believe as they do.  How many millions have died because some jackass lead a pogrom or started a war, just because of ideology?

 Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
"You've GOT to be shittin' me!'

What is your greatest regret?
I try not to think about this one.  If I'd changed anything along the way–marrying my college gf, becoming an orthopedic surgeon, hell choosing paper over plastic–I wouldn't be where I am today.  I enjoy my life now.  I'm grateful for that, for I know far too many people who are miserable.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Words: reading them, writing them, hearing them, speaking them.  Also Christina Ricci (both lovely words).

Which talent would you most like to have?
I am a good enough musician to appreciate how bad a musician I am.  I would love to have the skill and talent of a Keith Emerson or a Jeff Beck.

What is your current state of mind?
Content, serene, ready for a nap.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Surviving, with an intact sense of humor.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be?
A pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas.  (Sorry.  I love that Eliot line)  I honestly don't have an answer for this.  If reincarnation is real, I wonder what the previous Tom answered.  I doubt this was it.

If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
Same clown, different circus.

What is your most treasured possession?
My Power Book.  I don't have many possessions–I neither need nor covet very much–but this little device has my words, my music, a couple nice movies, etc.  I only pick that because the cats would smother me in my sleep if I called them "possessions."

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Waking up, and having your first thought be, "Not again."  I was there.  It sucked.

Where would you like to live?
I honestly believe that if I won the lottery, I'd move about five miles away.  I'd get a little house on Passe-a-Grille Beach, and a cabin in the mountains for when I have to evacuate.

What is your favourite occupation?
Learning about people and things that interest me.   The other night, I was enraptured by an entomology study reporting how an Aedes taeniorhynchus was found in Oklahoma back in 1971.  (It's a salt marsh mosquito, for crying out loud, why was it there?) But if I try to read about another blood-sucking pest–Dick Cheney, eg–my eyes glaze over.  And I'd never download a picture of Cheney.  The taeniorhynchus? You bet.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Ability to engage nearly anybody on his or her level.  .

What is the quality you most like in a man?
Restraint: not behaving as if he were in a frat house after a big game.  (unless, of course, he is in a frat house after a big game)

What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Self-acceptance: not obsessing about appearance (physical and otherwise), and being happy the way she is.

What do you most value in your friends?
Versatility and steadfastness: I like that my friends are there in good and bad times, and they are always my allies, full of love and humor.

Who are your favourite writers?

James Ellroy, Milan Kundera, J.D. Salinger, Graham Greene.

Who are your favourite poets?
T.S. Eliot, first.  Burns, Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Robert Browning, e.e. cummings, secondarily.

Who is your favourite hero of fiction?
Owen Meany.  He spent his whole life building up to one tragic, selfless moment, and when it came, he embraced it.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Nurses.  Almost all of the nurses I had during my hospital month were kind and cheerful, no matter how overworked they were (very), how unpleasant their duties were (sometimes pretty bad), or how scared-grumpy-frustrated I was (sometimes exceedingly).

What are your favourite names?
Ones that fit their owners well.  If Helen Thomas were named "Jessica Alba," the name wouldn't be so beautiful.

What is it that you most dislike?.

Obsession with image, when people do ridiculous things to fit-in, rather than doing what comes naturally to them.

How would you like to die?
Eventually.

What is your favourite motto/quote?
E lascia pur grattar dov'e la rogna. ("And let them go ahead and scratch where it itches," from Dante, The Divine Comedy)

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2 Responses to “Not just another Meme: The Proust Questionnaire”

  1. Thought-provoking replies, Tom. I might pilfer this from you. 🙂 I used the Proust Questionnaires back when I was interviewing famous people back home. I got some pretty interesting answers, ranging from "Is this a valid question? Should I even answer this?" to "Will ask manager first". Really.

  2. whoa, tom, this is very neat. I'm a big fan of the Proust questionnaire (also a bid fan of Proust). back when I was fairly new here in VOX I embarked into an ambitious project, answering one question a day. so ambitious a project that it spluttered and died about 1/3 of the way in. here are the few I got through.

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