There’s a scene from Little Miss Sunshine that has stayed with me for the longest time. If you’ve seen the movie you’ll remember it instantly. Miss Sunshine is of course the film about a family on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and the scene in question is between Dwayne and Frank, who are musing on the meaning of life.

Dwayne: I wish I could just sleep until I was 18 and skip all this crap-high school and everything-just skip it.
Frank: Do you know who Marcel Proust is?
Dwayne: He’s the guy you teach.
Frank: Yeah. French writer. Total loser. Never had a real job. Unrequited love affairs. Gay. Spent 20 years writing a book almost no one reads. But he’s also probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Anyway, he uh … he gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, those were the best years of his life, ’cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn’t learn a thing. So, if you sleep until you’re 18 … Ah, think of the suffering you’re gonna miss. I mean high school? High school — those are your prime suffering years. You don’t get better suffering than that.

Before I knew better, like Dwayne I thought that life was curative. That the smarter and older you got the less pain or problems you would experience. I thought that self awareness would bring progression and healing to the point of Nirvana. Of course life has an amazing sense of humour, and evolution isn’t curative. That’s a childish fantasy we are sold or begin to believe in thanks (in part) to the Disneyfication of fairy tales. The more self actualised you become the better the quality of the struggle you experience. Of course you still experience a whack of mediocre type challenges to ensure you’ve been paying attention in class, but for the most part self evolution is about finding your truth — a journey that never ends.

Apart from writing that one incredible book “that almost no one reads”, Marcel Proust created an interesting questionnaire in his teens that serves as a personality confessional. Proust returned to the questionnaire frequently during various periods in his life and with good purpose.

The original manuscript of Proust’s answers entitled by Marcel Proust himself was auctioned in 2003 for €102 000. Then those questions, marginally modified, are used in every issue of Vanity Fair to get into the minds of modern day “luminaries” like Alec Baldwin, Emma Thompson, John Cusack and David Mamet.

My favourite Proustesque interviews of all time are with Norman Mailer and Umberto Eco.

I’ve done the Proust Questionnaire at various stages during my life and found that the degree of thought and self revelation in the exercise intriguing. It’s a bit like having an intelligent confessional diary, that’s stripped of early angst and self pity. Small wonder that Proust returned to his questions again and again and again.

Although self awareness isn’t a safeguard against misery or a guarantee of happiness, Socrates’ guiding value has significant merit. As the non traditional Latin inscribed on a plaque above the Oracle’s door in the Matrix film trinity advocates: temet nosce (know yourself).

Growing self knowledge, fostering self insight, and developing self esteem is a worthwhile journey that can lead you to truth.

    My adaptation of the Proust questionnaire for you to answer if you dare:
  • What is your favorite virtue?
  • What is the principal aspect of you personality?
  • What are your favorite qualities in a man?
  • What are your favorite qualities in a woman?
  • What is your chief characteristic?
  • What you admire most in your friends?
  • What do you appreciate most about your friends?
  • What is your main fault?
  • What is your favourite occupation?
  • What is your idea of perfect happiness?
  • What would be your idea of absolute misery?
  • If not yourself, who would you be?
  • Where would you like to live?
  • What is your favourite colour and flower?
  • Who is your favourite author?
  • Who is your favourite poet?
  • Who is your favourite fictional heroine?
  • Who is your favourite fictional hero?
  • Who is your hero in real life?
  • Which historical character do you most dislike?
  • Which historical hero do you most like?
  • What do you hate most in the world?
  • What talent would you like to be gifted with?
  • How would you wish to die?
  • What would your tomb stone read?
  • What is your present state of mind?
  • What fault do you have that you tolerate the most?
  • When do you lie?
  • Who or what do you hate?
  • What is your greatest achievement?
  • What’s your most treasured possession?
  • Your motto?



Charles Lee Mathews

Writer who likes to draw.

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