Playing Scales

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It’s not that I have nothing to write. I have a list of things to write. An essay nearly finished,  interesting exercises that I could run through, the writer’s equivalent to playing scales. Tonight an invented one: I found a website that generates random photos. When I asked for one, this is what it sent me.

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I can do something with this picture. I can invent a story about it. That might be fun. For awhile I noodled around with it, but other than riffing on themes of (first) abandonment and (second) longing I didn’t get anywhere. One of the toughest things about writing fiction is keeping out of the cliches that riddle our psyches like land mines. Maybe I’ll write a story about this photo, but I have to think on it awhile.

Years ago, a man disappeared on a jet ski in a local lake. It’s a man-made lake, and it lays like a little dimple on the Ohio landscape. You could sit in a canoe in the middle and see every shoreline and everyone on the shoreline could see you. They found the body of the man, may he rest in peace, but by then I’d already written a story — in my head, of course– complete with Maury Povich, Belize, and the underbelly of Dayton’s east side. I need to get that stuff down on a page.

Non-fiction is so much easier– you just tell the facts. Or try to. Journalists are human, so bias creeps in, even if it’s just in the choices of adjectives we make, or which quotes to include. Yesterday, the Register Guard newspaper of Eugene, Oregon ran a story about an elderly dog who was stolen out of her yard by “rescuers.” Not “a woman”. Not “a thief”, but “rescuers.”

The story, by Chelsea Gorrow, has gotten an enormous amount of play on social media lately. The dog turned out to be 17, and was being provided with palliative care by her life-long owner. This news story called the dog “Hope” the name the “rescuers” had bestowed on her and quoted them as if their beliefs were gospel. Even though the dog’s name was Zena and they knew that. Eventually she was returned to her owner, who felt his hand was forced and took her to be euthanized the day she returned.

I was moved by this example of bright yellow journalism to do something I rarely do anymore–  to correct the story and send it back to the writer and all four of her editors. They all ought to be ashamed. Of course, I didn’t hear anything back, they probably chalked up the email to “some crackpot old woman.”

But aside from those kinds of egregious lapses in judgment, writing non-fiction is just answering these challenges: make it plain, make it engaging, make the reader stick with it. Who, what, when, where and why is also helpful.

Of course, fiction has those too, but starts with the initial enormous hurdle: make it believable.

I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that.

Like I said, I have a list of things I intend to write lo, these 40 days. A list.

So, how is it that I find myself, once again at the keyboard after one in the morning, writing the equivalent to chopsticks? It’s everything I can do not to creep into the living room to watch Big Bang Theory’s Kunal Nayyar  host the Late Late Show. Bob Newhart’s his guest. But if I do that, nothing will get written. Nothing at all.

I am just so damned tired. I have projects on every burner, some of them in crisis, some of them boiling over. Today I took time out to go for sushi with my friend Rita. We’ve been trying to get together since before Christmas. It’s been close to a  year since we actually went to lunch. So even though I wavered for a moment this morning and thought maybe I should just work instead, I didn’t. I went to lunch, by God and I’m not sorry. Friendships deserve tending too.

Then I worked.

By the time I was heading home from the office, I felt crummy. One arm aches. I’m plagued with lightheadedness. There are weird twinges here and here and here. I keep dropping things. I believe that stress is either killing me or making me a hypochondriac. Maybe both. So I had a nap on the sofa, and didn’t get anything written and now I’m too tired and I have to go to sleep!

There’s a little flourish, there at the end, did  you hear it?

Maybe there’s some benefit to just dragging my carcass here to the desk and writing something. I hope so.

 

 

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Banjo Song

Myrtle B. Wilkinson playing tenor banjo, Turlock, California, 1939. Photographer unknown.

Myrtle B. Wilkinson playing tenor banjo, Turlock, California, 1939. Photographer unknown.

Last year, on Ash Wednesday, I started a new writing project “Writing for Lent,” in which I intended to write every day for 40 days. I made it for a week.

This year, I thought, I’ll try it again. I don’t have to write 1000 words a day after all, I can write 100 words. Or five.

And because fate has a wicked sense of humor, the morning started out with an email about a fundraising letter I’d written.  The email included an edited version of the letter with every bit of music stomped right out of it. Obliterated as surely as if the editor had used a hammer on a piece of Limoges.

Not that I’d asked for the letter to be edited, mind you.

So, in the spirit of plaint, I posted rhetorically to Facebook, pondering the mystery of why no one takes professional writers seriously. Because they don’t. Everyone truly believes they can write a book. They can write an article. They can write a sonnet.

And I suppose they can. We are all taught to make one word follow another after all. Surely years of discipline and experience and millions of words arranged on a page count for nothing, right? Because we all can write.

The general consensus of that thread was that I was mean and nasty and horrible to think that professional writers should write unmolested by those who think they have the mandate to fix what the writer wrote.

So I took it down. I almost wrote that I took it down because I love my friends and there is a tiny little granite marble of truth in that statement. But mostly I took it down because it made me feel worse.

No matter how I tried to explain, I couldn’t make myself understood. It didn’t make me feel like much of a writer, I tell you.

And tonight, I wanted to write about how much my life, this series, writing in general and the very business of getting up and lying down again makes me think of banjo music; an endless frenetic loop of Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

And it’s not that I hate banjo music. I like banjos. I’m one of those people– banjos, bagpipes, the Mongolian horse fiddle– I like them. They make me feel cheerful. (Ruth, I know you’re gritting your teeth.)

And anyway, it was just a metaphor, but I couldn’t find the structure to make it fit, and it’s late, and there’s still so much to do and pluckpluckpluck twang forward roll. Sometimes that’s just the way it is, on and on and on.

But tomorrow, another piece, perhaps one that will settle into place, orderly and melodic, a way to get in touch, a message more deftly conveyed,  a better song.

And if I’m lucky, one the day after that.

 

 

 

Scenic Route 53


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“A great alternative way to reach Grants from Gallup is via Scenic Route 53, which runs parallel to, and south of, I-40. It takes a full day to really experience this out-of-this-world landscape of lava tubes and red arches, volcanic craters and ice caves, as well as unique historical attractions and traditional New Mexican towns.”  

-Lonely Planet

On Friday, I turned 53. I’m not particularly bothered by it. I happened to be online around 1 a.m. and commented that I’d been 53 for 53 minutes, to which my mother (the next day) said “Not exactly.” Which is true, I wasn’t born until 6:40 in the evening. My father had gone home to make a sandwich.

And it was one time zone over, so I guess I wasn’t truly 53 years old until twenty minutes of eight on Friday. But that’s not what this is about. I could be turning 39 or 57 or 10.

This is about expectations.

Like everybody, I’ve had good birthdays and crappy ones. I’ve had full-blown week-long celebrations and birthdays that passed with little notice. Oh wait, that last part’s not true.  I’ve never had a birthday that passed without notice.

But lately I’ve started to realize that the enjoyment I found in a celebration had direct correlation to what I expected from it– but not having any expectations is not only not realistic, it’s not the answer.  The answer is this: make your own fun.

One of the very best things about my birthday is that the weather, which has been a socked-in-solid deep freeze for the last several weeks began to thaw. I know it isn’t spring, this is still January. But it was forty something, and the air felt soft. I went out into the world wearing a velvet coat.

It starts with a swim at the Y, a brand new luxury for me. The day before my husband went with me to sign up for a membership and bought a parking pass for good measure. Then we went out to buy shoes.

“Shoes?” you query. “Who needs shoes to swim in a pool?” Well, that’s true. I don’t need shoes to swim in a pool. But I might need them to sneak a little walking or racquetball or some other exercise disguised as fun. This is a very delicate arrangement, I don’t want to frighten my good intentions.  These are the shoes, they’re far more gaudy than any pair of shoes I’ve ever bought in my life, my footwear exists in the spectrum from Doc Martens to sensible Mary Janes.

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After swimming, it was off to the kind of meeting that makes you wish you were having a root canal instead. For two hours. Lord help me. Save us from people who refuse to be reassured and offer nothing in the way of solution or support.

And I didn’t even get paid for those two hours lost forever from my life, on my birthday no less– it was all part of a volunteer gig. On the other hand I was the youngest person in the room. That gives me faith that 53 is not all that old, and that there are still plenty of years ahead for me to make trouble.

After the meeting, a late lunch with a friend. The white tablecloth restaurant where we hoped to go had closed for lunch, so we ended up at Panera, but that was alright, I had a favorite salad and it was delicious. My friend gave me this wonderful birthday card, one of the best I’ve ever seen. Inside it says “You’re just a few clicks past thirty.”

 

bostonbdayI would have lingered longer but I had to go pick up my son.

At home, there were birthday cards– one, from my father’s widow, had a generous check enclosed. There was an odd shaped package from my mother, which turned out to be a tall object resembling an umbrella stand.  We don’t think it truly is an umbrella stand, but it has found a place in the hallway and I like it.

Earlier, on our way to the closed restaurant, I passed by the windows of a shop I had only seen from the car. I’d always thought it was a high end gift shop– you know, home of the $40 paperweight. But walking by the window I saw on a shelf a figure of a dog, but I hadn’t had time to check it out before going home. So, it’s my birthday, right, I’ll indulge myself a little.

Back to the shop, and it is chock full of interesting stuff, shiny baubles and costume jewelry and beautiful French wrapping paper. The dog figure is only ten dollars, but it looks like the head of a mastiff on the body of a hound, so I pass on that, but pause over a number of bracelets, inspect some marked down Christmas ornaments and buy some French wrapping paper. It’s a place I’ll go back to, I’m only sorry it took me so long to go in the first time.

From there to the weird hum of the Goodwill outlet, where I found a blue plaid wool blanket, a poster from a Grand Funk Railroad tour, a first edition of LeRoy Neiman’s Art and Lifestyle, an interesting Melmac tray and a Magnajector. This is a Magnajector.

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From Goodwill to the grocery store, and flush with the unexpected birthday check, I splurge on steaks for us. And a ganache-covered torte to serve as birthday cake.

Birthday dinner, then was sublime. More relaxed than any restaurant and you could go back for seconds. No candles on the torte and no singing (that may have been a misstep) but the cake was awesome.

It was nearly midnight before I sat down to check the computer. There were emails. A couple of texts. Some Facebook messages . . . and more than 150 posts wishing me a happy birthday. Some of them so perfect as to be gifts all in themselves.

Like this one.

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And this one from my friend, Terri, quoting Byron.

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And this one from my pal Mark, noting my return to the water.

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What gift could be better than messages like those from friends like that?

And then I found out all kinds of interesting things about the number 53.

  • It’s the number of an incredible scenic highway in New Mexico.
  • 53 is a prime number.
  • It’s the code for direct-dial calls to Cuba, a place I desperately want to visit.
  • 53 is the racing number for Herbie the Love Bug.
  • The Daily Mail says that 53 is when middle age begins.
  • At 53, Ludwig van Beethoven completed his Ninth Symphony
  • Sidney Sheldon began writing his first novel at 53.
  • Robert E. Peary reached the North Pole at age 53, and that’s how old Walter Hunt was when he invented the safety pin.
  • 53-year-old playwright Vaclav Havel became president of Czechoslovakia.
  • Sue Monk Kidd published her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, at– yep, 53.
  • The atomic number of Iodine is 53. In it’s gaseous state, it’s violet, like the cardigan I’m wearing in the photo above, taken on my 53rd birthday. It is present in ocean water, as I too, would so like to be. But the Egyptian-inspired pool at the Y will have to be a close second.
  • The character of the Grinch (who stole Christmas) is 53.

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As is Dewey Largo, who in the episode of The Simpsons that I just happened to watch on the night of my 53rd birthday, sings “My country ’tis of thee, my job is misery. Life disappointed me, I’m 53 . . . .”

(I think I aged better than Mr. Largo.)

 

Here’s what I know: you are responsible for your own happiness. I had a wonderful happy birthday, because I decided that I would have a wonderful happy birthday. Many, many people, friends and family alike, helped make it even happier. But from the time I got up in the morning I decided to celebrate the day like the present it was.

Today I am still eating birthday cake. Lucky girl.

A Second Cup of Tea

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Last year, I decided that I wanted something different for the new year– not resolutions which seemed doomed to failure and designed to inspire self-loathing– but something else, a kind of “to do” list. Not a bucket list, with its solemn life-changing scope, something smaller. What I came up with was a “tea-cup list“.

On the original list, there were 15 items. I achieved 7 of them:  I did renew my passport and I did leave the country. I bought a kitchen torch, I took Ransom to the beach, I spent more time with friends. I threw away my old tired undies, I explored more, I kissed more.

But the living room ceiling is still without gilt, I didn’t get to Kitty Hawk, I haven’t been riding, though I did take a carriage in Central Park.  I didn’t take the train to the Library of Congress, and I didn’t find a place to swim.  The fireplace still needs tile, and I haven’t learned to make a pie crust– though I found a restaurant in West Milton, Ohio that makes the most wonderful pie, so maybe I can cross that off instead. I am not writing five days a week and that does vex me.

I still want to get to all of those things, but they won’t make this year’s list.  Oh, perhaps you will catch a glimpse of one or two here or there.  But it is a new year and I have new things, and new-old things I want to try. And as with last year’s, I post these not because I think you have any particular interest in how I plan to make my year, but in hope that it may inspire you to make plans for some fun of your own.

 

Tea for 2015

1.  Two finished chapters by March 1.

I’ve been spinning my wheels on this long enough. The research is always fun, but the weight of what I need to do has begun to tax me. It’s time to get those chapters written, the outline polished, the pitch made perfect. In March I want to begin to sell the book.  (And while this sounds a bit like a resolution and I am resolved to make it happen, it is finally, a gift to myself to move forward.) 

 

2.  French doors to the study.

There are two sets of vintage French doors in the garage. And a five-foot wide opening into my study through which sail dogs, husband, children and the like. I love my family, truly, but if I can’t close the door, they interrupt, and if they interrupt I don’t get any work done. See item 1. 

 

3.  Detroit Institute of Arts

The Detroit Institute of Arts is safe, thank God. I had planned to go and visit when it was in danger of being raffled off to cure the city’s bankruptcy.  The imminent threat has been abated, but I still want to get to the Motor City to explore restaurants and make photographs of another great American city and poke around the art museum and see my friends Ed and Jerry over there in Windsor. 

 

4.  A few nights at the Elizabeth City Bed & Breakfast

When the Wrights went to the Outer Banks to try their Flyer, the train took them to Elizabeth City, North Carolina. They stayed in the Southern Hotel there while waiting for the weekly freight boat to Kitty Hawk. The Southern is long gone, but the quaint and charming Elizabeth City B & B is in an old inn that was the Southern’s contemporary. I think there’s a pillow there with a mint on it for me. 

 

5.  Chincoteague

I want to go and see the ponies. It’s not so far. 

 

6.  Finish early

This one is even more like a resolution, but my relationship with deadlines is a toxic one. It makes me anxious and cranky, and I could just be a lot kinder to myself by not letting it go so long. I will try. 

 

7.  Swim nearly every day.

What a luxury, and one within the realm of possibility. I would not have modified it to “nearly”, and could have planned to swim every day but I know my own life well enough that my best hope is four or five days a week. 

 

8.  Hang every picture in the house. On freshly painted walls.

I have many wonderful paintings and photographs and the like that are stacked in closets and up against walls and packed in boxes. It’s time to hang them so I can enjoy them. Some of the walls need a new coat of paint first. I’ve got the paint, I just need to set aside the time to make it happen.

 

9.  Rookwood Pottery. A single tile. 

Rookwood Pottery is functioning again. I told my husband I’d like a bear for my birthday. Perhaps I’ll get my wish. But really I’d like to go and look at tiles and see them made and perhaps buy just one, and use that one splendid tile for the focus of the surround that the living room fireplace has needed since we moved in. Eight years ago. 

 

10.  Go to the zoo and visit the lions.

I love the lions at the Cincinnati Zoo. There are new cubs. It’s not so far, nor so expensive. I just like to sit quietly and watch, it’s good for the soul.  I’ve never been sorry to spend an afternoon there. 

 

11.  Have a lobster roll.

My most favorite food. I don’t know where I’ll get this lobster roll. It doesn’t seem all that likely I’ll get to the Maritimes two summers running. But maybe. Revere Beach is closer. And if it comes down to brass tacks, I’ll make one for myself. 

 

12.  Resurrect the Suburban.

Poor Suburban, our work truck, gasping for fuel, the front passenger seat torn asunder where the dog lost his mind one afternoon. There’s a spot on the roof with a bit of rust. It’s sat in the driveway so long now that the remote won’t work. But it wouldn’t take so much to put it all to right, and once again have a rig that will carry sheet rock, plywood, garden soil, straw bales, dog crates, storage tubs and furniture. I miss it, I miss sitting a bit higher than the rest of the traffic. I miss its limousine qualities. It’s a worthwhile endeavor to bring it back. 

 

13.  Winnow

Like everybody, I’ve got too much stuff. Some of this stuff I don’t even really like. It’s time to pitch it. Ditto the spices I’ve been carrying around since I was a sophomore in college. The shoes I will never ever wear again. Some of the ways I squander my time. Friends who aren’t friends. Clothes that make me feel self-conscious. Books that I haven’t read and won’t read or those I’ve read once and won’t ever read again. Music I don’t like. VHS tapes.

 

14.   Go to the movies.

I like the movies. There’s a first run cinema here where you can see them for five dollars a pop on Wednesdays. I just need to make a point to go. I don’t remember the last time I saw a movie in a theater. It might have been a decade ago.

 

15.  Keep being grateful.

This autumn I made a point to count my blessings– three a day for a hundred days. I’ve finished that exercise and it was a good one. I’m so very glad I did it, even though I’m –um– grateful that I no longer have to do it such a formal fashion. But it did change me in a profound way. I learned to look for the silver lining, to note the things that made me feel happy or joyous or content instead of just letting those slide.  The glass is more beautiful when it is half full.

 

 

To a Former Student of My Father’s

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A few weeks ago, an email arrived out of the blue from a former student of my father’s. My father, dead now nine years next week. In this unexpected missive were recollections of my father’s enthusiasm for 18th century poetry and the way he laughed. He did have a wonderful manner of laughing. It’s said that you die two deaths. One when you draw your last breath, the other when someone speaks your name for the last time– and thus my father, Larry Vonalt (January 10, 1937 – December 26, 2005) lives on.

Dear David,

Thanks for your note. I’ve been meaning to answer it since it arrived, but time has a way of zipping past regardless of one’s intentions. I can’t imagine what you found on Google– but I haven’t been 40 for some time. I went to Florence O. Stillman and Wilbert Snow Schools in Middletown and have vivid and mostly happy memories of living in Connecticut.

Though I know well his enthusiasm for 18th c. poetry, Dad’s interests later tilted more towards the Moderns and after– Eliot and Pound, and then Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Delmore Schwartz, Dylan Thomas, John Berryman. I sat in his senior seminar in poetry the summer of 1972– and remember some 40 years later that two poems covered that day were Anne Sexton’s “Woman with a Girdle” and “Flee on Your Donkey.”

Dad spent 1971 (’72? one of those) — on sabbatical trying to write a book about John Berryman. It was the same year that Berryman died– but he didn’t finish it and as a result didn’t apply for tenure at Wesleyan. My mother fell in love with a British physician and she and I left the country in the autumn of 1972.

When he was dying of laryngeal cancer in 2005, Dad asked me to clean out his office at the University of Missouri at Rolla and I found drawer after drawer of material on Berryman– each poem had a file an inch thick. When I asked him what to do with it, he wrote (having been robbed of speech by that time) “Pitch it.”
I didn’t, of course, I couldn’t– and instead carted it home like a very heavy cautionary tale.

The way he let me know that the cancer treatment had failed was to ask me, by email, if I wanted his poetry books. (Because of course, I already had copies all my own.) When we buried his ashes at a cemetery in New Harmony, Indiana I read aloud at graveside the last stanza of “Little Gidding” from a first edition of Four Quartets, (“We shall not cease from exploration . . . .”) and then I carefully tore the page from the book and placed it in the little vault (bigger than a bread box? barely) with what remained of him.

He would be very pleased to know that you turned out to be a poet. I tried for years to not be a writer. I mean, I worked at not being a writer, even going so far as to take a degree in art. But I allowed myself a few poems, and then somehow I became the protege of Howard Nemerov. After my shoebox filled up with rejection slips from all the best houses and journals, I gave it up in entirety. (Marriage and children and a career in journalism contributed to the fall, I’m sure.)

I still miss my father every single day.

Thanks for writing. Enjoyed the couplet.

Larkin

 

Into the Dark

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I looked at death tonight. I’d like to say I examined it like you would a textile, holding the weight of it in your hand, feeling the surface. But of course, it wasn’t like that.  No one touches death, we only picture it until it embraces us.

It was more like admiring something in a catalog and thinking “I wonder how that would be. What would it be like to try that on? Is it too expensive?”

In my twenties, I used to think about suicide on a fairly regular basis. I’d imagine the aftermath. I’d consider it as a solution, but not for long. If you’re thinking about the “after” you’re only kicking the tires. For a month or so, when I was 26, I slipped way below the surface and really thought I wanted to die. I was in so much pain that I didn’t see the point in going on living.

Luckily I had health insurance. Because I had health insurance, I had a psychiatrist, a good one, who kept me alive by making me sign a contract every day that I would not kill myself before I saw him the next day.

I don’t have a psychiatrist anymore.

But this evening, I looked at death again. And I didn’t think about “after.” I looked at it like one looks at a deep dark pool. Some alternative state. And what I thought is this: it would be so nice to rest.  This would stop all of the things that are hammering in my brain. The last box to tick on the last to-do list.

I have too much on my plate.

I am supposed to be writing a book. I haven’t done a damn thing for it since October. That inattention weighs me down. I have been busy with volunteer efforts. I have been busy helping friends. I have been busy spinning my wheels. The days start and end in the dark.

When I tell my friends that I am out of hope, they suggest chocolate. They say they feel the same.

At my house, the television goes constantly. My husband is wonderful in many ways, but he starts the day with “Paternity Court” and falls asleep on the sofa to “Rachel Maddow” on Tivo. I am not in the same room with it, but I hear it throughout the house. A friend of mine used to share the complaint– her husband had a particular fondness for “The Price is Right.”  When her husband died last winter, “The Price is Right” was on across the room.

Our twenty-year-old son lives with us. He’s a good kid, but he and his father can’t communicate.  As a result my husband nags me all day every day about the things he wants Julian to do, since direct communication  between the two of them so often ends in shouting.

Every plaint, every pundit, the queries by phone and email, the tasks left undone, each of them another stone in my pocket.

Today I met a friend for lunch. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was out of sync, not quite keeping up. Afterwards, alone, I sat in the car in a parking lot in silence. For twenty-five minutes, just staring out at the December sky. I felt strange. I ran some errands, picked up dog food and toilet paper.

Driving home through the city streets, I didn’t even feel like I was in the car. I felt like I was in some other place, perched on a diving board, my toes curled around the edge.

And then I came home. And the television was on and the dogs swirled around me. In the kitchen, my husband notes that I have tears in my eyes. I just nod. I don’t know why I’ve been crying. I don’t know why I feel so down. I don’t know why I feel so tired. I only know that I’ve been into the dark and out again.

 

 

The Proust Questionnaire

A Parlor Game.

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The other day I noticed that Joan Didion had filled out the Proust Questionnaire. Years ago, I’d read about the Proust Questionnaire, a kind of parlor game popular in late 19th c. Europe, where friends compared their answers to a particular set of questions. The questions were said to reveal one’s True Nature.

Two examples of Proust’s answers survive: those from a birthday party, in which Proust, then 13 was asked to answer fifteen questions in Antoinette Felix-Faure’s birthday book; and those from another social event seven years later. The questions are similar, but the answers reflect the different mindset of a twenty-year-old man from a 13-year-old boy.  

Vanity Fair has maintained various celebrities’ answers to the “Proust Questionnaire” as a regular feature on its last page, as well as an interactive version for mere mortals to enjoy. You can find Proust’s answers to the questions, as well as join the more than 2000 people who’ve participated in the “The Proust Questionnaire Archive” here.

These are shared, not because I think anyone is much interested in my answers, but because thinking about the questions is worthwhile.

 

 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Contentment with what I have.

 

What is your greatest fear?
Everyday I make an effort at Being Fearless. I’m almost there.

 

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Eleanor Roosevelt.  William Faulkner. Boadicea. It depends on the day.

 

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Sloth.

 

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

 

What is your greatest extravagance?
A plethora of dogs

 

What is your favorite journey?
To the sea.

 

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Piety.

 

What is your favorite way to fill your hours?
Treasure hunting. Reading.  Friends. Anything but writing. Okay, writing sometimes.

 

What do you dislike most about your appearance?
That there’s so much of me.

 

Which living person do you most despise?
All or none. There are many I hold in contempt, but few that I would waste so much emotion on as to despise.

 

What is your greatest regret?
That I wasted so much time. And continue to.

 

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Words.

 

When and where were you happiest?
On the ground in the winter leaves with a hound, lost 9 days, wiggling with joy in my arms.

 

Which talent would you most like to have?
Musicality.

 

What is your current state of mind?
Fluid.

 

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d have more self-discipline.

 

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I’ll only know when I reach the end of my life. My son, though, is high on the list.

 

What is your most treasured possession?
My wits.

 

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
I know it when I see it.

 

Where would you like to live?
I love where I live. I just wish it was closer to the sea.

 

What is your most marked characteristic?
Willfulness. That’s both a blessing and a curse.

 

What do you most value in your friends?
Laughter. Love. Loyalty. Not necessarily in that order.

 

Who are your favorite writers?
Randall Jarrell. James Joyce. Faulkner. And a thousand others.

 

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
The hunter, in Randall Jarrell’s The Animal Family.

 

Who are your heroes in real life?
My husband. My mother. Elizabeth Warren. Al Jenkins, the coroner of Park County, Montana.

 

Who is your favorite painter?
Edward Hopper. John Singer Sargent. Alex Colville.

 

Who is your favorite musician?
Beatles. And so many more.

 

What is your favorite bird?
Sparrows.

What is it that you most dislike?
Selfishness.

 

What is the quality you most admire in a man?
Compassion

What is the quality you most admire in a woman?
Compassion.

 

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
A bear.

 

How would you like to die?
Quietly.

 

What is your motto? 
Res ipsa loquitur. (“The thing itself speaks.” )