Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Proust questionnaire

Marcel Proust once wrote a questionnaire which has since been put to interesting people in literary magazines. Maria Popova makes a nice introduction to it here. I do not profess to be interesting nor that my blog is literary but, since I have my audience captive, as an intermission to my travel notes and purely for indulgence I thought I'd answer it myself.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I have a good mate who recently invited me to his house for a night of whiskey and jazz appreciation. He was sitting on the couch early on in proceedings when his four-year-old daughter climbed adoringly over his shoulder and kissed him on the cheek.

He also said to me, "This period doesn't last."

What is your greatest fear?

Going down in a plane. It might seem odd, as I travel a great deal, that I am never entirely comfortable flying; I hyper-analyse every sound and bump during take-off and landing. I need to force myself consciously to relax.

I'm not a big fan of cancer, either.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Disloyalty. More specifically, failing a test of friendship.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Avoiding paid work.

What is your favourite journey?

When I was 26 and living in Vancouver, I got a sudden phone call from a friend and bandmate.

"Do you want to go to California?" he asked.

"What, now?"



"All right."

His mother had left that morning for a week-long cruise to Alaska and said he could use the car, a convertible Mazda MX-5, but fatefully told him "not for anything crazy like driving to California."

We had to be back before she was. We hit San Francisco that night and clubbed after hours to an awesome female DJ and impromptu drum circle at The End Up. We spent the next day in Sacramento at a bar discussing jazz with a pianist actually named Omar Sharif who, in the sixties, was associated with the Black Panthers (I still have his signed CD). We entered the relic-strewn Mojave Desert through Reno after the sun set, raced its rise into Vegas, and tried without success to sleep in the oxygen-saturated air of the Luxor casino toilets. In LA we hunted for Tom Waits haunts and venerated Charles Bukowski's grave. Then we sped non-stop along the Oregon coast to get back for a gig we were booked to play in Vancouver.

It was my first real road trip. In six days we covered 6,000 kilometres, driving in shifts, and slept a total 18 hours. I was hallucinating at the wheel from lack of sleep, and now that I think about it, I'm not sure that my mate had a licence.

What do you dislike most about your appearance?

Male pattern baldness. I have only one recurring dream: that I never actually cut the elbow-length hair of my youth.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

This is close to the bone, so I will answer "what": writing.

And with that answer, I fail my audience completely.

When and where were you happiest?

In the arms of she previously not answered.

Second place is maybe picnicking on green grass under a blue sky on a warm yellow day in springtime Lucerne, evoking memories of childhood. Or that's third, I suppose; the childhood memories themselves must be second.

What talent would you most like to have?

Stubborn perseverance.

What is your current state of mind?

Tipsy, aiming for drunk.

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

All my life I have made steady efforts to isolate and destroy my dissatisfactions with myself. To change things. In my twenties it was emotional dependence on others. In my thirties, to re-orient my life to a track from which I felt I'd become derailed. Currently it's my lifelong struggle with procrastination. I don't know that I ever truly succeeded at any of it, but I think, paradoxically, that such an outlook is both a healthy way to grow in one's life—in the vein of Socrates' aphorism, "Be as you wish to seem"—and an anxiety-inducing recipe for unhappiness.

There really is only one correct answer to this question: accept yourself. I defer all further comment to the Dalai Lama.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

The question is cruelly presumptuous. 

Prince Philip's answer resonates with me. When asked on his ninetieth birthday if he was proud of his achievements, the Duke of Edinburgh looked puzzled. "No, that’s asking too much," he said. What about his successes? "Who cares what I think about it. That’s ridiculous."

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Poverty, schizophrenia and genocide are beyond my personal experience, so I'll go with love, rejection and depression.

What is your favorite occupation?

Travelling alone and self-sufficient to unseen places with everything I own in a backpack, and writing about it. And having readers read it. Thank you.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Compassion. No, hubris.

What do you most value in your friends?

When I am down, broken, broke and desperate, homeless, hungry and lost, I have friends who would take me in, and have. This is the greatest measure of friendship.

Who are your favourite writers?

Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter S. Thompson, Friedrich Nietzsche, Franz Kafka, Bill Bryson.

Who is your favourite hero of fiction?

Augusto Perez, from Miguel de Unamuno's Niebla

Who are your heroes in real life?

Vasili Arkhipov, Daniel Ellsberg, Gillian Triggs.

What is it that you most dislike?

Noise. I'm really sensitive to loud distant voices, megaphones and leaf blowers.

And computers that don't do what I tell them to. I broke my hand punching a computer once.

How would you like to die?


What is your motto?

"To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom." — Bertrand Russell

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