25th Trillium Award

The Proust Questionnaire, with Joanne Arnott

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Joanne Arnott is an award-winning Metis writer and literary performer from Manitoba, now living with her family on the west coast. Her first book of poetry, Wiles of Girlhood won the Gerald Lampert Award in 1992. She has performed readings of her work and given writing workshops across Canada and in Australia.

Her latest book, Halfling Spring: an internet romance (Kegedonce Press), is a collection of poems that explore love, intimacy and family with a focus on electronic connections.

In her answers to the Proust Questionnaire, Joanne tells Open Book about poetic storytellers, her real-life heroes and why honesty is more important than perfection.

The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.

What is your dream of happiness?
A life in balance, fresh air, human warmth: shared joy, doing things with people I love.

What is your idea of misery?
Becoming preoccupied with all that isn?t working in the world, all past harms and present contentions, to the point where no goodness can glimmer, no joy can thrive.

Where would you like to live?
I like where I live right now, in the mouth of the river: I?d love to live somewhere less populated, nearby: this is a very beautiful region, coastal BC.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Emotional literacy, physical balance, intellectual curiosity. A sense of humour.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Emotional literacy, physical balance, intellectual curiosity. A sense of humour.

What is your chief characteristic?
?Mom.? A pragmatic and whimsical approach to everything.

What is your principal fault?
Preference for the life of the mind and emotions, focus on relatedness, allowing the physical realms to subside in neglect.

What is your greatest extravagance?

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
Honesty is more important to me than perfection; people can make mistakes, and change their minds.

What do you value most about your friends?
Comfortableness. A sense of being physically safe and content, emotionally and intellectually engaged, sharing a space that is tolerant of divergent interests and opinions.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Cruelty, intolerance.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
Cruelty, intolerance: momentary loss of compassion.

What is your favourite virtue?

What is your favourite occupation?
Writing and editing, leading groups. Woodworking is something I desired but haven?t explored. Working with paper (in a print shop) I did desire and enjoy.

What would you like to be?
I like being me, living in a nexus of friends and family that stretches very far.

What is your favourite colour?
This varies, generally greens, browns, reds, oranges: spring and autumn colours.

What is your favourite flower?
Wild rose, prairie rose: open pink-petalled flower with yellow center and intoxicating scent.

What is your favourite bird?
The moon. Heron, eagle, crow. Small birds of all kinds.

What historical figure do you admire the most?
Jane Schoolcraft comes to mind, E. Pauline Johnson, Louis Riel, Chief Dan George.

What character in history do you most dislike?
Duncan Campbell Scott, repercussions of his multifaceted work in the world: perhaps the most harmful cultural worker with the least reconciled reputation (in Canadian terms).

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Some formative influencers: James Baldwin, Anais Nin, Daniel Defoe, Yasunari Kawabata, Thomas Hardy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Takeo Nakano.

I have enjoyed a few books by Kenneth J. Harvey in recent years, and re-purchased all of Kawabata?s books. I loved Larissa Lai?s mythic novels; I?ve read hundreds of pages of Giles Slade?s nonfiction. Recent novellas of note: Richard Rathwell?s Jump the Devil, Paul Seesequasis? unsettling Tobacco Wars. Kagan Goh?s memoir Who Let In the Sky? is a tender volume.

Who are your favourite poets?
Laozi (Lao Tzu), above all. Old prayer songs to various divinities. Takeo Nakano, for simplicity and concentration; John Newlove, Daniel David Moses, Marie Annharte Baker, all formative; Leonard Cohen in full song; Marilyn Dumont, Duncan Mercredi, Louise Halfe, Garry Gottfriedson, Gregory Scofield. Maxine Gadd. Susan Musgrave. Harold Rhenisch. Jamie Reid, Fred Wah, Fiona Timwei Lam, all people I go out of my way to hear when I can. Phil Hall was my first creative writing instructor, whose values I imbibed.

There are too many to name! Mahmud Kianush, Mark O. Goodwin, Kemeney Babineau, people I have swapped books with, and enjoy reading their works on my porch. Myriad pen-pals and collaborators. I am about to delve into 600+ poems by contemporary African writers.

Many storytellers are represented in poetic form, Maria Campbell?s Stories of the Road Allowance People and Ron Scollon?s translation of Francoise Mandeville?s stories in This Is What They Say are two that come to mind. In both cases the word ?stories? may throw people off the scent, but this is poetry of excellence.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
I tend to like those kids who zoom through great anime, fantastical landscapes and huge world-breaking dilemmas: the power of slipping through and saving the day. Likewise, figures in folk stories, doing the same

Who are your heroes in real life?
Lee Maracle, Elijah Harper, Maria Campbell: I have a lot of heroes, actually, I enjoy admiring people, sitting back and looking at a life-in-progress or a life complete, and saying ?wow!? and, ?what can I learn from this??

Who is your favourite painter?
Leo Yerxa, Aaron Paquette, Christi Belcourt.

Who is your favourite musician?
Otis Redding, Cat Stevens, Sandy Scofield, Russell Wallace.

What is your favourite food?
I love food, especially food shared. I love to eat when I am hungry.

What is your favourite drink?
Water, coffee, beer, in that order of frequency.

What are your favourite names?
Clavicle is my favourite word that should be a name.

What is it you most dislike?
The way that scars from the past can scope down our expectations of life.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
Song, the power of voice, and graciousness, generosity of the spirit.

How do you want to die?
Softly, naturally, and not 'til I?ve completed my tasks.

What is your current state of mind?
Thoughtful, responsive.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

What is your motto?
?When you make a mess, clean it up?

According to my search engine, the Arnott motto began as a war cry, and in once-fashionable Latin reads ?Speratum et completum,? translated as this promising thought: ?Hoped for and fulfilled.? It doesn?t sound much like a war cry, does it?

Joanne Arnott is a Metis/mixed-blood writer, born in Manitoba and based in Coast Salish territories on the west-coast. A publishing and performing poet since the 80s, a blogger in more recent years, Joanne is mother to six young people, all born at home. Active participant in many online and inworld collaborating groups of writers, she is a mentor and piecework editor, an essayist, as well as a poet and activist. Halfling Spring: an internet romance is Joanne?s eighth book, and her sixth book of poetry.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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