the Proust questionnaire

If you want to answer any of these questions, I’d love to hear your answer!

this isn’t the little boat, but I’m writing notes on the larger boat as we float down the Mekong. I love this memory so much. And how funny — sitting in a white wicker chair on a traditional Vietnamese boat.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
It’s so strange to say this because it doesn’t fit my sense of myself at all, but perfect happiness for me is being in a small boat on some river, preferably in southeast Asia, but anywhere. I don’t fish, I don’t row or anything, and I’m not at all an outdoors person, but I love little more than being in a small boat. One of my most glorious memories happened at night in the Mekong Delta; we’d gotten out of our larger boat, into a row boat, to go into a small tributary to “see how ordinary people live in the delta.” Standing behind me in the boat was a beautiful Vietnamese boy wearing Diesel jeans and singing a French song as he used a pole to navigate our small boat through the tight waterways. There were homes scattered along the riverbanks, and the smell of small charcoal fires, food cooking, and the firelight, and the sounds of people talking and laughing in the dark, and the stars were overhead and the air was fresh, and I still hear that song, the word fantastique, his beautiful voice. I recall that memory so often.

What is your greatest fear?
Something terrible happening to one of my kids or grandkids. No mother is easy with that, but I have a particular fear of their self-harm that I believe I would not be able to survive.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I shut myself off at the first wounding, and don’t/won’t/can’t give you another chance. I really hate that, so much. I fight myself over it.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Meanness, and gaslighting. So you can imagine how this administration is killing me.

My dear, loving, beautiful Dixie — sister in my deepest heart.

Which living person do you most admire?
Easy. Dixie. If I could be half as loving as she is, I’d feel like I had it made. If Dixie loves you, you are LOVED unconditionally. But if you hurt someone Dixie loves, well, let’s just say you should not hurt someone Dixie loves. Dixie loves me, and that makes me very blessed. Her voice became the voice in my head and that changed so much for me.

What is your greatest extravagance?
OYSTERS! Even at happy hour, they’re $1/each, and I could easily eat 100 of them I think, though I’ve never been able to afford to test that limit. Also, the frequent world travel that Marc takes me on — he manages the whole thing, plans the trips, pays all the expenses, and I am so grateful for it all.

What is your current state of mind?
At the moment I’m kind of scattered because of politics and because I’m SUPER stressed out about not making enough money. Super super stressed out. Constantly wondering how and where I will live.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Honesty, because everyone lies. I value honesty, but I am always kind of amused at the way people get so self-righteous when they’re lied to, since without a doubt they lie, too. I lie. You lie. Everyone lies. Honesty means something different to me than being truthful in every sentence.

On what occasion do you lie?
The nice thing to say is that I lie to save your feelings. But the truth is that I lie to get out of social engagements, because I’m such an awkward introvert and even though engagements seem like a wonderful idea when I first say yes, as the time approaches my awkward terror swamps me and I lie to get out of them. I don’t like that about myself, but it’s the truth. The truth of when I lie. 🙂

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My teeth. I’d give anything to be able to afford to fix my teeth. This even trumps my clumpy thighs, my saggy tummy, and my droopy neck. If I could fix my teeth I would be so happy.

Which living person do you most despise?
Our so-called president and all the Republicans in the government. Mitch McConnell has a special place in hell as far as I’m concerned, but they all belong there. I really, really, really hate them.

What is the quality you most like in a man?
Beautiful (and kind) hands. Is that a quality? I really love beautiful, gentle hands and a man’s hands are the very first thing I look at, to decide whether to look at anything else about him.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Being real. I hate gloss and superficiality so much, and I just expect more of women. I want to know the truth of women’s lives.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Really? Wonderful! Wow. Amazing! Whoa.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My kids and my grandkids.

When and where were you happiest?
My kids are the loves of my life, but raising them was not my happiest period. I guess I was happiest….at random moments! Walking in the sun (or big snow) in Riverside Park. Finding myself in a place on the earth I never thought I’d be able to see — Hanoi, for example. Being hooded in my PhD ceremony, and hearing my kids shout for me from the audience. Picking up a Do-Rite donut in Chicago. Seeing one of my kids after an absence, that moment when I first see her face.

Which talent would you most like to have?
Oh without a doubt I’d love to be able to draw in a free and evocative way.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
More self-confidence! An imagination for myself! I often think about what someone else could do with the raw stuff of my life, and all that stops me is self-confidence and imagination. Super frustrating. It seems like I could gain self-confidence, but the imagination for myself seems impossible to get, no matter how much I try. It’s such a black hole. And I’m grateful to Nancy for articulating that for me.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My kids. They are good people in this world, and whatever role I played in that is definitely my greatest achievement.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
A rich person. Because, as Dorothy Parker said, I would be darling at it. I would not be like the Republicans — everyone I know would have all their needs met and many of their wants, and I would be gracious and generous, and travel, and read, and make things. And give, give, give.

Where would you most like to live?
In rank order: Hanoi, Luang Prabang, Paris, Vancouver. (Of course I assume I would have the money and language needed to live in these places.)

What is your most treasured possession?
Big Daddy’s hard hat, and the various letters my kids wrote me when they were young.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
In my personal life, it’s the ongoing absence of my son. I often think I can’t actually survive it.

What is your favorite occupation?
“My” favorite occupation? I’ve been so many things over my life, I guess the one I like best was acquisitions editor. I really loved talking to people about books I wanted them to write, or hearing them tell me about books they wanted to write. I didn’t at all like the pressures of the job, but the essence of it was always so great. I mean, really: I was paid to talk to people about books. That part was wonderful.

What is your most marked characteristic?
I’m not sure if this is a “characteristic,” but I think my giant gummy smile is probably the thing I’m most known for. And my love of donuts and Peeps.

What do you most value in your friends?
Their willingness to share the reality of their lives with me. To share mine. To be real with me, and not to default to small talk and cliche. To tell me what they really think about things. I just can’t stand small talk. We sure don’t have to be doom and gloom, but if all I get is the gloss, the “sunny side only!”, we won’t get past that barricade into real friends.

Who are your favorite writers?
How much time have you got??? Vonnegut. Rushdie. Knausgaard. Berlin. Ferrante. Yuknavitch. Yanigahara. Hosseini. Gornick. Carson. Munro. Moore. Offill. Flynn. Melville. Homer. Grass. Murakami. Dostoevski. Dante. So many poets.

Who is your hero of fiction?
Jean Valjean, I suppose. I identify with all kinds of characters, narrators, memoirists, but Jean Valjean was my very first hero and I think about him so often.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
No idea. All I can think of is Quasimodo — detested for his being, his nature, his birth. He wasn’t historical, but he was my earliest Other.

Who are your heroes in real life?
John Lewis and Fred Rogers. And aspects of Hillary Clinton — the way she just keeps going, the way she was able to keep standing on that stage with the monster, the way she gave her life to fighting for others, even if that wasn’t the whole story. For John Lewis and Hillary Clinton, it’s their persistence that makes them my heroes. With Mister Rogers, it’s his essential kindness and loving heart that makes him my oldest hero. I will always love him, and credit him with helping me learn how to become a human being.

What are your favorite names?
Pete is far and away my favorite name, followed by Mama, which Marnie calls me. And I feel tender toward “Dawn Ann,” which my dad called me for some reason. He gave me my middle name, Dawn, and my mother gave me Lori — and why he called me Dawn Ann I don’t know. But I feel soft when I think about him calling me that. Still, Pete is my absolute favorite, followed by Mama.

What is it that you most dislike?
Cruelty and abuse of power, especially over the powerless (and most especially over children). I just cannot bear that. Even a little bit.

What is your greatest regret?
One specific mistake I made with my first husband. I’ve done a lot of things I wish I hadn’t done, mistakes made, choices made, miscalculations, all those things as we all have, but that mistake is one I will regret until the day I die, even as I understand the context for it.

How would you like to die?
In my sleep, as a dusty, old, otherwise-healthy woman! Wouldn’t you?

What is your motto?
Fall down seven times, get up eight.