DK: Proust Questionnaire

  1. What is your current state of mind? Unsettled. Restless. (Permanent Status.)
  2. What is your favorite journey? To stay home.
  3. What is your idea of perfect happiness? Solitude. Followed closely by Donuts.
  4. What is your greatest fear? Mortality. 
  5. What is your most marked characteristic? Impatience. Volatility.
  6. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Introversion. Restlessness.
  7. What is the trait you most deplore in others? Cruelty. Arrogance.
  8. What is your greatest extravagance? Gadgets. (Latest edition. Don’t ask how many.)
  9. What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Optimism.
  10. On what occasion do you lie? It’s rare.
  11. Dislike most about your appearance? I’m at peace with it all (except morning weigh-ins)
  12. Which living person do you most despise? Despise, such a strong word. No one.
  13. Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “Are you prepared to hear this?”
  14. What is your greatest regret? Memories of cruelty.
  15. What or who is the greatest love of your life? Family.
  16. When and where were you happiest? Right now.
  17. Which talent would you most like to have? Pianist like Beethoven. Writer like Steinbeck.
  18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Less introverted.
  19. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be? Accept that the Patriarch is right.
  20. What do you consider your greatest achievement? Our two children.
  21. What is your most treasured possession? Gadgets. All of them.
  22. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? The poor, the cold and the hungry in winter. Cruelty to animals.
  23. Where would you like to live? Home. Wherever home is.
  24. What is your favorite occupation? The one I’m in. Love it or leave it.
  25. What is the quality you most like in a man? Humor and humility.
  26. What is the quality you most like in a woman? Grace and kindness.
  27. What do you most value in your friends? Truth.
  28. Who are your favorite writers? Haruki Murakami. Mary Oliver. Steinbeck. Ted Kooser.
  29. Who is your favorite hero of fiction? Bugs Bunny.
  30. What is it that you most dislike? Meals without prodigious amounts of dessert.
  31. Who are your heroes in real life? No heros. I admire the gentle, the kind, the humble.
  32. How would you like to die? I wouldn’t.
  33. If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be? A Golden Retriever. Or Bruce Springsteen.
  34. What is your motto? Never look back.

The Proust Questionnaire has its origins in a parlor game popularized (though not devised) by Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist, who believed that, in answering these questions, an individual reveals his or her true nature.  (Source: Vanity Fair)

 

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

I think much of decency. How to pass a plate. Not to shout from one room to another. Not to open a closed door without knocking. Let a lady pass. The aim of these endless simple rules is to make life better. I pay close attention to my manners. Etiquette matters. It’s a simple and comprehensible language of mutual respect.

~ Jack Nicholson


Notes:

 

 

Riding down TX-114 E. With Ron.

The alarm rings. For this self-rising yeast, it’s a rare morning when I need an alarm.

I roll over to glance at the clock: 3:10 am. I would have slept through it. Body resists all movement. I gotta get up.

3:58 am. I-95 S. Truckers, drunks (hope not), others heading to LGA and JFK, and me.

4:45 am. Security check-in line snakes down the corridor and around the corner. At least 100 deep. WTH? Does anyone know what time it is? I look down the hall and the TSA line is empty. The good joo joo train is rolling. I wait for TSA man to wave me through the x-ray frame. No pat down required. (No hands riding too close to the crotchal area.) No random bag check. The sun keeps shining.

5:33 am. Boarding.

6:00 am. Jet doors hiss and close. I’m seated in an aisle seat (preferred). There’s no one next to me. It’s an Exit row. How do you spell Nirvana?

6:45 am. 32,000 feet. Kitty corner right, one row up. Mother. Late 20’s. Holding infant, maybe 2 months old. A beautiful baby boy. His head is nestled in his Momma’s nape. He lifts his head, wobbly, and he stares at me with his big brown eyes. Miracle. All of it. My hands tire after holding my e-reader for 20 minutes.  She holds him for the entire 3 hour and 20 minute flight, with the exception of 2 bathroom breaks. Rocking him. Cradling him. Feeding him. Mothers, Wow. 

8:55 am CST. On time landing. My checked bag is at baggage claim spinning on the carousel. Should I buy a Lotto ticket, Now?

8:56 am. Smartphone buzzes. Text message. “Sir, it is Ron Smith, your driver. I’m waiting at Gate C21.” How did we survive before text messaging?

9:00 am. “Good morning Sir. Let me grab your bag.” Ron is in his late 60’s. Chauffeur hat. “Let me get the door for you Sir.” Hat. Door. Sir. Uneasiness drifts in.

[Read more…]

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

At fifty-four, I’m now roughly the same age Dante was when he was putting the finishing touches on The Divine Comedy. I’m the same age as von Aschenbach in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. (I realized only recently that the character in this novella who was pining for a youth and his own lost youth was squarely in middle age; not having read the opening very carefully, I had always assumed that the “old” man who allowed the hotel barber to dye his hair jet black and garishly paint his face was in his seventies at the very least.) Fifty-plus is a good age for big questions. Unless I’m that rare soul who makes it past one hundred, I probably have less time ahead of me than I’ve already lived. Now that my brother, sister, and I are all over fifty, my brother, using a golf analogy, refers to our lives as being played on the back nine—the first nine holes are behind us. Whatever score we’ve accumulated, we carry with us. Suddenly, finishing honorably and staying out of the sand traps and water hazards matters more than seeing our names on the leaderboard. On the other hand, I think any age is a good age for big questions. I asked some of my biggest and best when I was in high school and college—fittingly, as that’s what school is for. I asked other big questions at painful times in my life—no age is immune from misfortune or feels it less keenly. And I hope and expect to be asking big questions right up to the end.

~ Will Schwalbe, Books for a Living


Notes:

meaning is found not in success and glamour but in the mundane

From “You’ll Never Be Famous — And That’s O.K.” by Emily Esfahani Smith:

There’s perhaps no better expression of that wisdom than George Eliot’s “Middlemarch”…At 700-some pages, it requires devotion and discipline, which is kind of the point. Much like a meaningful life, the completion of this book is hard won and requires effort. […]

As for Dorothea..she marries her true love…But her larger ambitions go unrealized. At first it seems that she, too, has wasted her potential. Tertius’s tragedy is that he never reconciles himself to his humdrum reality. Dorothea’s triumph is that she does.

By novel’s end, she settles into life as a wife and a mother, and becomes, Eliot writes, the “foundress of nothing.” It may be a letdown for the reader, but not for Dorothea. She pours herself into her roles as mother and wife with “beneficent activity which she had not the doubtful pains of discovering and marking out for herself.”

Looking out her window one day, she sees a family making its way down the road and realizes that she, too, is “a part of that involuntary, palpitating life, and could neither look out on it from her luxurious shelter as a mere spectator, nor hide her eyes in selfish complaining.” In other words, she begins to live in the moment. Rather than succumb to the despair of thwarted dreams, she embraces her life as it is and contributes to those around her as she can.

This is Eliot’s final word on Dorothea: “Her full nature, like that river which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

It’s one of the most beautiful passages in literature, and it encapsulates what a meaningful life is about: connecting and contributing to something beyond the self, in whatever humble form that may take.

Most young adults won’t achieve the idealistic goals they’ve set for themselves. They won’t become the next Mark Zuckerberg. They won’t have obituaries that run in newspapers like this one. But that doesn’t mean their lives will lack significance and worth. We all have a circle of people whose lives we can touch and improve — and we can find our meaning in that. [Read more…]

Truth

You can’t transform mountebanks into menschen. Character is like concrete: You can make an impression when it’s freshly poured, in its youth, one could say, but when it sets, it’s impervious to alteration.

~ Charles M. Blow, Satan in a Sunday Hat (NY Times, July 31, 2017)


Notes: Image Credit

Walking Cross-Town. Or, on the Highway to Hell?

It’s late evening, the sun is setting, the end of a long day. I’m sitting in a Metro North train car on my commute home reflecting on the day. Cool air streams down from the overhead vents.

Summer has arrived in Manhattan, and despite this 23 square mile piece of land being surrounded on all sides by water, the Island can be 10-20° F hotter than it is at home in the suburbs – billions of tons of concrete, steel and asphalt broiling under the late day Sun.

I had read his essay the prior week, and it was still rooting its way into my core, into the marrow of my bones.  I flip open my e-reader to re-read the passages that I have highlighted in George Yancy’s “Is Your God Dead?” where he speaks to leaving our God in our places of worship or in our good intentions.  [Read more…]

Riding Metro North. Don’t Sit Here.

You, yes You, are standing on the platform waiting for the next train. The train approaches.  You flip open an app that displays which seats are open and…the app flashes a profile of your seat mate. Profiles are pulled together using a composite of the individuals’ blog posts, google searches and social media activity. So, what you have here is a form of seat match-making, with no names or addresses disclosed.

You, yes You, see that there are only two seats open. You scan the first profile, and you move to the second, mine, needing to quickly decide where to sit as the train pulls into the station. [Read more…]

they get a lot of pleasure simply from shopping and buying things

Excerpts from How to Raise an American Adult (wsj.com, May 5, 2017) by Ben Sasse:

…Our nation is in the midst of a collective coming-of-age crisis. Too many of our children simply don’t know what an adult is anymore—or how to become one. Perhaps more problematic, older generations have forgotten that we need to teach them. It’s our fault more than it’s theirs…

My wife, Melissa, and I have three children, ages 6 to 15. We don’t have any magic bullets to help them make the transition from dependence to self-sustaining adulthood—because there aren’t any. And we have zero desire to set our own family up as a model. We stumble and fall every day. But we have a shared theory of what we’re aiming to accomplish: We want our kids to arrive at adulthood as fully formed, vivacious, appealing, resilient, self-reliant, problem-solving souls who see themselves as called to love and serve their neighbors. Our approach is organized around five broad themes.

Resist Consumption…In a 2009 study called “Souls in Transition,” Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith and his colleagues focused on the spiritual attitudes and moral beliefs of 18- to 23-year-old “emerging adults.” They were distressed by what they discovered, especially about the centrality of consumption in the lives of young people. Well over half agreed that their “well-being can be measured by what they own, that buying more things would make them happier, and that they get a lot of pleasure simply from shopping and buying things…But consumption is no route to long-term happiness … Although we often fail at it, Melissa and I aim to imprint in our children the fact that need and want are words with particular and distinct meanings … Parents can impart such lessons many ways. The occasional camping trip, off the grid, can teach the basic definition of shelter—and make the comforts of home look like the luxuries they are. You can shop differently too. One of our daughters is a serious runner, so we purchase high-quality shoes to protect her developing bones—but most of her other clothes come from hand-me-downs and secondhand shops. We want our children to learn the habit of finding pleasure in the essentials of life and feeling gratitude for them. We’d like to think that, when they strike out on their own someday, they’ll have a clear sense of what they really need… [Read more…]

Willie: I don’t believe in that

Bob Schieffer: Things didn’t always turn out real good for Willie. Back in the 90’s, there was this little matter of back taxes that he owed Uncle Sam.

“I gotta say, you’re the only guitar picker from Abbott, TX that I ever knew, or heard of that owed the Federal Government $32,000,000.”

Willie Nelson: “Yea. It’s kind of funny when you think about it.”

Bob Schieffer: “But I’m sure it wasn’t funny to you at the time.”

He worked it out, paid it off.

“So why didn’t you ever declare bankruptcy?”

Willie Nelson: I don’t believe in that. You know I believe if I owe some people some money, I’m going to pay it.

~ Willie Nelson, closing in on his 84th birthday, in an interview with CBS News’ Bob Schieffer about songwriting, longevity, and how he will never quit.


Notes:

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