the Proust questionnaire

Thursday, while still awake at 3am with my sleep routine out of wack from the mid-week snow day, and excited from finishing the design for version 3.0 of Mental Ephemera, i came across an interesting post at Apricot Tea, the proust questionnaire in my words. I’d never heard of Proust, but i’ve an affinity for questionnaires and love to learn of and about new people, so the title piqued my interest.

As it turns out, Marcel Proust, a French writer in the late 1800s, twice answered a questionnaire, once at 13 and again at 20, with the questions slightly varying each time. The questionnaire was subsequently named after Proust because he is said to have answered the questions the most beautifully and profoundly. He believed that by answering these questions truthfully, a person could unmask their true nature. Interesting.

the beauty of marcel proust
sick sketch of Marcel Proust by everyoneloveskayla

Digging through the information treasure troves that are the Internet, I learned that the litany of questions regularly asked of celebrities in magazines, such as Vanity Fair, which publishes one in every issue, stems from the Proust Questionnaire. I now have more reason to look forward to my subscription!

I’ve pretended to be a celebrity of sorts by giving the questions a whirl. I chose the ones from Vanity Fair’s questionnaire, but i came across the two sets originally answered by Proust in 1884 and 1891.

Here goes it. (FYI: It’s very long.)

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfection, to me, is all-encompassing, flaws and imperfections coupled with the stainless and pristine, so adding that with happiness, makes it interesting, since it’s wavering. The first image that pops into my head is a large room, a library, with high ceilings encased with bookshelves upon bookshelves, littered with tome after tome, sitting in a grand, comfortable chair, coffee pot at the ready, glasses perched atop nose, reading and annotating. It reminds me of this photograph i tore out of an issue of Inc. magazine that is now hanging on my bedroom wall: an older man with glasses, a tie and suspenders, surrounded by leather-bound books strewn across a vast table, captioned, “While some people are watching television, I’m reading bibliographies.”

What is your greatest fear?

To pass from this life without having a legacy to leave behind. This is the only chance i have, the one that is actually bankable, for anything after is saved for a betting man, that which i’m not, so i must mark indelibly something on this world. That is my only fear, and will remain so until i have children, for no parent could stomach a lost child.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

It’d have to be James Weldon Johnson, at least cursory. There haven’t been too many people with whom i immediately identify, at least on several fronts. With Johnson, i understand his trepidation when it came to dealing with the Black question, with whom one should identify, which “race,” will it be a sign of disloyalty, treachery, or a turning of one’s back. He was curious, he wrote, he loved people, his people, our people. He was torn. I understand.

Which living person do you most admire?

There are multiple: Lenny Kravitz and Johnny Depp, first and foremost; they’re what i call my inspirational paragons. Russell Brand is a helluva character, too; highly intelligent and zany.

I love Nikki Giovanni’s candor, at least her writing from the 80s for I’ve yet to read anything more recent.

Drs. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cornel West i truly admire, both of whom i was lucky enough to see lecture or present in person. The former i saw lecture at (i believe) the Lincoln Center in NY last year, where he covered the genealogy of prominent African Americans, telling of his own surprising ancestral discovery, all while encouraging others to do the same. The more people who have their DNA analyzed and databased, the more accurate and quicker the results. Dr. Gates was a fortifying catalyst for my own family-tree building. As for Dr. West, since reading Race Matters several years ago, i’ve respected his intellect, and the balance he maintains being both a Christian, PhD holding theologian and covering issues dealing with the secular public as a whole.

There is also bell hooks, whom i mentioned in my thoughts of self: conventions of naming post. In addition to the styling of her name, i found inspiration and insight from several of her books, mainly Rock My Soul and Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, co-authored with Dr. West, who signed my copy ::dance::.

Finally, after recently hearing and meeting Amiri Baraka, i have an increased respect for the poet and Civil Rights Activist; he’s one of the last remaining from the old guard.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

This was a tricky one, too. I’d have to go with moderation. I often indulge excessively in drinking, but also in innocuous activities. One of my nicknames, which i have tattooed on my back so i would say it’s more like an embodiment than a personal moniker used by friends, is “OverZealous.” When i find something of interest, i will throw myself into it with extreme enthusiasm; i’m very meticulous and obsessive when it comes to certain things. Over the years i recall describing myself as an “extremist” in the way i loved or disliked things, or in the way i could be hyper jovial or deadpan sarcastic. Or, maybe i’m just manic or bi-polar. Lol. ::shrugs::.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Indecisiveness. I cannot stand when someone won’t or can’t make a decision. Think about something and move. Go forward, backward, spontaneously or with a plan, it doesn’t matter to me; just choose something; don’t be staid, move, be dynamic. I don’t like staleness; keep things fresh.

A close second, probably 1.5, is complaining. In line with indecisiveness, complaining about things that are in a person’s own control irks me to no end. When it’s possible to make a change, and that person doesn’t do it, instead wallowing or continuously squawking about it, that has all the makings to give me an aneurism.

What is your greatest extravagance?

If this is a monetary extravagance, it’d have to be my last computer purchase and compounded book purchases. I shop from Amazon, it would seem, at least once a week. It can become an expensive habit, but thankfully one that’s not detrimental.

Superfluous writing would have to be another. I’m not known for being laconic (this questionnaire is a prime example! lol).

Soon, tattoos will be have to be considered one. I plan on having sleeves (at least half-sleeves) eventually. I love the bodily timeline of my life; the beliefs and philosophies; all things that i truly love or embrace. Self-expression: bringing the internal externally.

What is your favorite journey?

The life-long journey of acquiring knowledge. It’s one that will not cease until i do. It’s the driving force behind my life: book learning and experiences. The first play i wrote is about just that, dual ways of learning, through experiences or through books, and the marriage of both.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Combing through the seven Catholic virtues, Franklin’s Thirteen, and this exhaustive list of virtues it was difficult to choose at first.

After much deliberation, i had the strongest reaction to meekness. I don’t agree with it. I don’t see the merits in being “overly submissive.” I don’t believe in being submissive to anyone, nor should anyone to another. It’s why i grappled with the idea, the hypothetical, if i was ever in the Civil Rights Movement era, i’d have most assuredly sided with The Black Panthers or Malcolm X or the NOI, amongst other non-passive organizations. I respect everyone’s strategy and tactics, i understand they all have their own impact, but i wouldn’t have been a frontline supporter; my path would’ve taken me elsewhere.

I believe in humility, that takes strength; i believe in modesty, that takes compassion; but meekness is lying down, is allowing to be trampled. I can’t agree with that. It puts my mind and emotions in a tizzy. No human is above another to be given allowance, free reign, to control another, to torment or put them through things, in the spirit of being augmented, in the rhetoric of light at the end of the tunnel. As a Black Greek, one who had a process (Fall ’03!), i understand humility, i understood putting the ego to the side to learn; the whole time i, as well as my line brother, was treated as an equal. If meekness was the name of the game, i couldn’t have gone through with that. The collective meekness and passivity that are proselytized and preached in religious texts and through sermons are detriments to true uplifting of self, and therefore, the collective.

What do you dislike most about your appearance?

I don’t really dislike anything, but i don’t like to smile (showing teeth) since i have an overbite. Other than that, i don’t mind anything; i enjoy looking at myself; i’m very vain. Lol.

Which living person do you most despise?

Any deadbeat father. Any hatemonger.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

“Interesting.” “I don’t know.” “Love and hate are two sides of the same coin.”

What is your greatest regret?

I don’t have any regrets; i don’t believe in them. All experiences built, shaped or detracted something from my life or psyche. Reconstruction and deconstruction are all necessary, bringing something else to my life’s table. Without one experience, i may not have learned something.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?


Which talent would you most like to have?

I want to be able to play at least one instrument, namely the guitar or saxophone. The plan is to start learning at least one of them this year, and by 5 or 10 years, to be able to move past the novice level and onto intermediate.

I also would love to be able to sketch, specifically portraiture like the image for this post. Physical artistic drawing ability is my mother and brother’s forté. Me, not so much. I need to work at it again.

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

The only thing would be to have an actual documented history of at least one side of my family. We’re scattered and disconnected. There was a severing once my maternal grandfather passed away, and it hasn’t recovered since. And, it took a recent death, my cousin, Christopher, with whom i was raised, to rekindle relationships on my mom’s side.

Same goes for my paternal side: we’re disconnected from Filipino relatives, and only recently, within the past four months, because of a family gathering and Facebook, i’m able to reach out and stay abreast of things, at least superficially.

My grunt work will be even more difficult in finding out truths on both sides.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Being alive to see age 25 was one of my crowning achievements. I made it past the age of Tupac Shakur, the third leg of my inspirational paragon trinity. I was accompanied by a nagging doubt for years that i wouldn’t reach at least that age. I cried when i turned 25. I remember i called my mother and was happy for that milestone.

I haven’t accomplished much in my own eyes. Not yet. So, there isn’t anything i see as being great. There’s a lot more i need to do and upper echelons holding greats that i want to reach. This answer reminds me of Christina Aguilera’s “Back to Basics (Intro).” I’ll answer this again in 10 years. Lol. Stay tuned.

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

Well, since matter is never destroyed and i want to be cremated, i’m sure my energy will become part of something else, regardless. But, to patronize the question, i’d like to come back as a book. But one that is of the utmost rarity, leather and animal-sinew bound (yes, barbaric or early Gutenberg-esque lol), thick paper, and written by hand. Lol. I think the last part is a little much; we don’t have eunuch-manned printing presses any longer. Ha.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

For this, i think of the The Twilight Zone. There’s an episode with a man, a bookworm, who is the last remaining person in the world, left alone in a room filled to the walls with books—and he accidentally breaks his glasses. That has been the scariest episode to me since a child.

Being alone with no human contact is mind-boggling. Regardless of my enjoying solitude and keeping to myself often (i’m not a fan of company at my house), i need human interaction, even if it’s not in-person all the time (Twitter is wonderful for that). If i was alone, not being able to read books, which are never boring, and aren’t hindered by expectations so they cannot disappoint, i’d be driven to insanity. I’d be miserable. It’d be the most abject misery possible.

What is your most marked characteristic?

This question is ambiguous, so i’m not sure if it’s physical or another type of characteristic. Either way, right now, it would have to be my long hair, my “dreaded mane” (Lenny Kravitz). Not including that, it’d have to be my eyes or pointed nose. But, going by empirical evidence, others might remark it’s my intelligence. ::shrugs::.

What do you most value in your friends?

They learn quickly that i don’t like to be bothered all the time. Lol. I like to be left alone, and i am prone to disappear, whether that’s while we’re out at a bar or lounge or another state, or not hearing from me for a few days. Understanding, or really just allowing me to be me, is the best.

Who are your favorite writers?

I’m going to be here for a while with this one. Lol. I’ll try not to be exhaustive. I’ll limit it to only ten.

Starting with the newest addition: Brent Weeks. His Night Angel Trilogy is amazing. Three books released in three consecutive months back in 2008 (Oct-Dec). The series revolves around the exploits of wetboys, the highest caliber assassins, and the trials of society’s under- and middle classes dealing with the kingship/ruling class. There’s sword fighting and fisticuffs, sorcery and magic, and cool cultures and traditions. Each book is at least 300 pages.

C. J. Cherryh. Ahh! She introduced me to the skill of world-building. Her Faded Sun trilogy encompassed a world that was foreign, and not just because it took place universes not my own, but in developing totally unique customs, languages, and traditions. I often thank my brother for giving me the series as a Christmas gift a few years back.

R. A. Salvatore. One word: Drizzt. He’s the most famous character of a multitude of Forgotten Realms series written by Salvatore. Elves, Dark Elves, Dwarves, barbarians, sorcerers, wizards, morality, philosophy, all of them are found throughout his books. The creation of ideologies and religions amongst the various factions and races is a grand skill i’d like to be able to do in time. His writing has shown me that it is possible to construct uniqueness.

Ayn Rand. From her essays and books, Atlas Shrugged and Anthem, the ideas of individualism and objectivism are lain and resonate with me profoundly. Before i was even aware of Rand’s ideology posturing, her characters, namely the playboy Francisco d’Anconia, who was both intelligent and good-looking, charmed me, keeping me glued to to the pages.

Ed Greenwood. The founder of Forgotten Realms. Without him, i wouldn’t have been enthralled with fantasy novels. I’m not a fan of Tolkien’s books. I appreciate his planting the seed, but his works were dull to me. I’m glad movie versions of Lord of the Rings were made. Lol.

bell hooks. She is the first author to and most strongly, at that, influence my belief of love. She opened my eyes to the struggle of women in a literary form (i had first-hand experience with that from my single Black mother), the relationship dynamics of men and women, and the trappings of patriarchy. Her, along with Patricia Hill Collins (Black Feminist Thought), up-ended my world, infusing me with compassion for unthought of plights. The pinwheel of life isn’t black and white, but colored with greys.

Nikki Giovanni. Candor. I want to do a more exhaustive write up than i did with darling Nikki… but that’s for another time. For now, the openness with which she writes, inspired me to no end. It was refreshing to an unknown parched intellect. I love her writing for that. New avenues of my craft are always accepted and loved.

Christopher Paolini. This guy. He started writing his first book, Eragon, at 15, finishing at 19. It became a NY Times Bestseller. That alone would have impressed me (something that doesn’t happen often), but he added to that impression by creating his own written language used in the Inheritance cycle (the fourth book in the series is forthcoming). Maybe i should look into home-schooling for my future children: it worked wonders for him. Lol.

Isaac Asimov. The god-father of science fiction, Asimov’s short story, “The Last Question,” is his creation myth, and still my favorite short story of all-time. Along with the poem “A World in an Eare-Ring” by the god-mother of science fiction (some 200 years prior to Asimov), Margaret Cavendish, Asimov’s writing paints wondrous pictures with words of worlds beyond our own.

T. S. Eliot. Four Quartets. Simple.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?

Durzo Blint, from The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks. Cadderly from The Cleric’s Quintet by R. A. Salvatore also comes to mind, as long as the first book doesn’t count; i hated him lol. Drizzt Do’urden from several Salvatore series is up there, too.

What are your favorite names?

Malcolm. Ezra. Jezebel. James.

What is it that you most dislike?

I dislike it when people accept everything the media says or what they hear from someone else; gossip spreads too easily and quickly. I think the American public is too prone to sensationalism; we love it and eat it up. It’s unsettling.

How would you like to die?

Sleeping, dreaming—painlessly.

What is your motto?

“Everything is relative.”