The Proust Questionnaire (As Seen in Vanity Fair)
A while back, I did a "40-Over-40" boudoir photo shoot. I didn't get very neked for it, because I'm a raging prude, but I did feel beautiful and powerful and get some hella cool portraits. The creator and photographer, Elisa Cicinelli out of San Francisco, is putting together a little magazine featuring each of us "models." In addition to our faces and butts, she wants to reveal some of our personality, so she asked us to complete the Proust Questionnaire...this was originally popularized by French writer, Marcel Proust, and has been used by many people as a kind of deep dive/confessional. Vanity Fair regularly uses it when interviewing celebrities. I thought I'd join famous cuties Sharon Stone, Sophia Loren, and Karl Marx in "revealing my true nature." If you care to do it, too, just use this link or copy and paste from below and change the answers, unless you like mine, in which case steal them for yourself. I'll never know.
What’s your idea of perfect happiness? Lack of fear. I’ve spent most of my life being extremely anxious, so when I’m most happy, it’s because I feel comfortable and safe in that moment.
What is your greatest fear? Running out of coffee.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Insecurity that leads to a sense of scarcity and competition.
What’s the trait you most deplore in others? Dishonesty, cruelty, succumbing to ego, avoiding vulnerability.
Which living person do you admire most? I have a neighbor with 5 kids (five!), who works nights as a nurse in an intensive pediatric care unit, AND she’s a nice, pleasant person. I don’t get it, but I admire the hell out of it. I have two kids and just sit around all day ruining the lives of imaginary characters in my books and I’m super ornery.
What’s your greatest extravagance? Food. I get so excited when I get to eat. I love ordering take-out and spend an absurd amount of time gazing fondly at menus online.
What is your current state of mind? It's been hard in my head lately. I feel pretty lost and uncertain.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Beauty? Wealth? Stoicism? There are a lot of dumb ones we prize.
What’s your favorite journey? I suspect that I’m on it, but I’m in the “messy middle” (as Brené Brown puts it), so I can’t see it yet. It just feels scary right now. This last year I moved across the country away from everyone/everything I knew and changed careers. At 41. Eventually I'll be proud of myself but right now I just feel drained and scared.
On what occasion do you lie? When I’m trying to be polite and live up to my understanding of others’ expectations. Like when I’d really rather NOT do something, sometimes I’ll say, “Sure, Ok, I’ll host a meal for twelve, no problem.”
What do you most dislike about your appearance? I've always hated my long, pointy-uppy nose. It's weird and I was mocked a lot for it in school. Later in life I pierced it and wear a beautiful rose gold hoop, and that helps. I guess if you don't like something, decorate it?
Which living person do you most despise? Well, damn, Marcel! I'm not naming names, but there are some pretty foul world leaders I can think of..and people who make other people feel small and unwelcome. Knock that shit off.
What is the quality you most like in a man? Self-awareness.
What is the quality you most like in a woman? Self-awareness.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? Well, both my kids have gotten in trouble at school for saying bad words, so I think I overuse swear words, and apparently NOT sufficiently under my breath.
When and where were you happiest? I have a terrible memory and tend to live in the present, so, I don't know, but it's probably when I was eating something fabulous. Being at the beach in the sunshine is also perfectly calming and joyful to me (when my kids aren't there, so I don't have to worry about anyone drowning or getting eaten).
What is your biggest regret? I should have been there when my grandpa was dying. Also, there are many times I regret not speaking up more to defend what's right- hiding behind politeness and a desire to fit in.
What or who is the greatest love of your life? My Greyhound dog, Abel. He’s the best person I’ve ever met.
When and where were you happiest? On beach vacations with my husband over the last ten years- we’ve been to Puerto Rico, Fort Lauderdale, the west coast of Michigan, Hawaii. These are especially joyful because we went on them since having the kids, BUT WITHOUT THE KIDS. So, my happiest moments were when my kids EXISTED but were multiple hours away from me geographically, being watched by my parents. Hashtag bliss.
What talent would you most like to have? I wanted to be an actor and director when I was a kid. I even auditioned (unsuccessfully) for my university’s theater department. Twice. I’m an OK actor and I’ve done community theater since and had a lot of fun and some success, but it would have been cool to be great. Also, realistically, the talent I would most like to have is being better at dealing with rejection. I have loads of experience in BEING rejected, but I stew for a long time in existential crisis instead of rebounding and trying again. The universe is giving me more chances to improve at rejection with my writing. So…that’s good.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Self-loathing is such a waste of time and really fucks with my head. Also, when I feel insecure I get mean, and I'm insecure a lot, so...you do the math.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Ask me this on my deathbed, but I think it will have something to do with capturing the human experience- the pain and the joy of it- with words.
What is your most treasured possession? I technically own my dog, Abel, so him.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? It would be very cool to fly, so I’d like to be a bird, but not the kind people shoot for fun or the kind that eat garbage.
Where would you like to live? I moved a year ago to Northern California, and other than the stupid price to live out here, this is the greatest place on the planet. Mountains? Check. Redwoods? Check. Beaches? Check. Sunshine pretty much every day? Check. People from all over the world? Check. Fabulous bread? Mmmm check.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Loneliness. NOT being alone (that's the best), but being unknown and disconnected from others.
What is your favorite occupation? Well, I've been a waitress, a social worker in a hospital and free clinics, a Physician Assistant in surgery and women's health, a vegan ice cream company owner and manager, and now a novelist and freelance writer, and a mom (and virtual school head mistress) throughout much of those. I hated and loved all of them, so...? I've gotten to do some cool shit in my life and I'm grateful for all of it.
What is your most marked characteristic? I don't know what this means- maybe how people think of me when they think of me? Probably humor. Possibly honesty. I've been told I'm a "truth- teller." (Whenever someone says that I'm surprised, like, what's the alternative? Oh, shit are you all lying all the time and I didn't get the memo that I'm supposed to, too! WHY DOES NO ONE TELL ME ANYTHING!?!?!")
What do you most value in your friends? Honesty and humor, showing up and being reliable, and checking me on my bullshit.
Who are your favorite writers? I'm glad I didn't have to answer this out loud. I always freeze. My bad memory and desire to be brilliant wrecks me in those moments. I'd blurt out something like 'CATHY FROM THE COMICS! Ack!" but in reality, in writing, where everything is always easier- they are: Angie Thomas, Mira Jacob, Mark Twain, Glennon Doyle, Liane Moriarty, Brené Brown, Kate Quinn, Chanel Miller.
Who is your hero of fiction? Molly Weasley.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? There's this lady (Mary of Bethany) in the book, "The Bible" who, when Jesus (another historical figure- Google him) comes to visit her house, she gets out THE GOOD PERFUMED OIL, blessedly called "nard" in the text, and washes his feet and then dries them WITH HER HAIR like a flowery hairy luffa. The rest of the family is like WHAT THE FUCK THAT WAS THE GOOD PERFUMED OIL, but Jesus defended her and said His feet really needed it or something. I identify with Mary here because she literally saw this man RAISE HER BROTHER (Lazarus) FROM THE DEAD and she's being berated for spoiling him. She has her priorities straight. Everyone is too obsessed with precious stuff and not enough with (feet) people.
Who are your heroes in real life? People who are wise and careful with themselves and others.
What are your favorite names? I love old fashioned names that make you think of old men meeting up in coffee shops every day with their friends of seventy years and eccentric aunts who have an attic full of weird treasures.
What is it that you most dislike? Either fascism or white chocolate, depends on the day.
How would you like to die? I mean, like all of us: mid-orgasm, choking on chocolate cake.
What is your motto? ”Be kind and make the next right choice.” (This is sorta stolen from author Glennon Doyle and probably, like, Jesus and Gandhi, or whatnot)