For weeks, I’ve felt like someone has handed me a hammer and asked me to peel an apple with it. That’s what going to graduate school in English has been like. This week I learned that the Proust Questionnaire is a thing, a list of questions that Marcel Proust devised to shape his characters that is now commonly used in interviews of famous people and by writers to fill out their characters.

My homework is to complete the questionnaire for each of the two main characters in a story that I am planning for my second course. But before I did that I figured I should try to answer the questions myself.

It was murderously hard to complete. Here goes.

  1. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Being physically incapacitated with no hope of recovery
  2. Where would you like to live? Where I live now – Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Grand Marais, Michigan – and maybe a little cabin on the ocean in the Florida Keys
  3. What is your idea of earthly happiness? Canoeing with my husband on Grand Sable Lake in Upper Michigan
  4. To what faults do you feel most indulgent? Fickleness of interest, changing my mind about wanting to do things that minutes ago I was enthusiastic about; worry about improbable things like the ceiling fan becoming unhinged and decapitating all the guests
  5. Who are your favorite heroes of fiction? Atticus Finch, Randle Patrick McMurphy
  6. Who are your favorite characters of history? Civil rights leaders like John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X
  7. Who are your favorite heroines in real life? Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama
  8. Who are your favorite heroines in fiction? Olive Kitteridge (Olve Kitteridge), Jo March (Little Women), Karen Blixen (Out of Africa)
  9. Who is your favorite painter? Van Gogh, Georgia O’Keefe
  10. Who is your favorite musician? Willie Nelson; tough question because I am relying on memory
  11. What is the quality you admire most in a man? Genuine belief that women are equal to men
  12. What is the quality you admire most in a woman? Solidarity with other women
  13. What is your favorite virtue? Kindness, assuming honesty is a given
  14. What is your favorite occupation? Writing and being outside are tied for first place
  15. Who would you have liked to be? Amelia Earhart, Diana Nyad
  16. What is your most marked characteristic? Desire for complete self-determination in all things
  17. What do you most value in your friends? Loyalty and a wicked sense of humor, compassionate cynicism
  18. What is your principle defect? Wanting to fix things and people 
  19. What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes? Imprisonment
  20. What would you like to be? I strive to be 100 years old
  21. What is your favorite color? Rust – like actual rust, iron rust
  22. What is your favorite flower? Irises, a really lush peony
  23. What is your favorite bird? Cardinal in the city, Bald Eagle in the country
  24. Who are your favorite prose writers? Elizabeth Strout, Joan Didion, John Steinbeck
  25. Who are your favorite poets? Mary Oliver, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath
  26. Who are your heroes in real life? Hillary Clinton, Cecile Richards
  27. Who are your favorite heroines of history? Harriett Tubman, Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt
  28. What are your favorite names? JJ, Jannie, Mom, Dr. Wilberg
  29. What is it you most dislike? People who think hearing loss is funny
  30. What historical figures do you most despise? The Klan, George Wallace, slave owners
  31. What event in military history do you most admire? D-Day
  32. What natural gift would you most like to possess? An ear for music, ability to play music as well as I can type
  33. How would you like to die? Unexpectedly 
  34. What is your present state of mind? Drifty because of the heat and the gin and tonic
  35. What is your motto? Better late than never