Writer in Residence

The Proust Questionnaire, with Jess Taylor

By Grace

Don't miss the chance to get to know our fantastic February 2016 writer-in-residence, Jess Taylor. She recently completed our Proust Questionnaire, so we got a peek into her personality and got all the more excited about having her as our next WIR!

Jess is a Toronto-based writer, host and founder of the Emerging Writers Reading Series and is the fiction editor of Little Brother Magazine. Her writing can be found in many journals and magazines, and in 2013 she received the Gold 2013 National Magazine Award in Fiction for her short story "Paul."

That story is now the title story in her debut book Pauls, (BookThug) a collection of interconnected stories about people who are all named Paul, with themes that touch on identity, love and relationships.

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.

Jess tells us about falling in love with Toronto, splurging on notebooks and reading about anti-heroes.

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What is your dream of happiness?

I am a person who is split. One side wants to be engulfed by people who love me, wants to be seen and understood by these people. The other side of me sees happiness as somewhere very quiet where I can see the ocean and be alone to think, read and write. Most days, I think real happiness is made of those small moments where I write something playful and where I talk to someone I love. As I get older, my dream of happiness is more and more of peaceful contentment where I have a balance between my two sides.

What is your idea of misery?

Misery is being trapped. It’s knowing you’ll forever be alienated and not have a way out. I’m a problem solver, and I think true misery for me is the removal of all solutions. That’s there’s no hope things will change. It’s knowing death is coming but being unable to escape it.

Where would you like to live?

I love Toronto. I fell hard for this city, but sometimes I need a break from all the people and the fast-paced lifestyle. If I had unlimited resources, I’d have a house by the water somewhere but still be able to live in the city for periods of time.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?

Sensitivity, honesty, tenderness, self-awareness, loyalty, reliability, ambition, good work ethic.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?

Sensitivity, honesty, tenderness, self-awareness, loyalty, reliability, ambition, good work ethic.

What is your chief characteristic?

Openness.

What is your principal fault?

Openness/naivety/foolishness.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I am not a very extravagant person. I buy notebooks that are around $20 as my regular notebooks, and I think this is very extravagant since I go through them so quickly.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?

I am very tolerant of other people’s faults, as everyone has faults and I think they make a person interesting. I’m tolerant of irritability, recklessness, moodiness, jealousy… I understand these probably because they are things I deal with in myself to various degrees.

What do you value most about your friends?

Their intelligence, talent and good hearts.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?

Dishonesty, hypocrisy.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?

Selfishness, recklessness, impatience.

What is your favourite virtue?

Honesty.

What is your favourite occupation?

Writer!

What would you like to be?

Happy! A writer!

What is your favourite colour?

Blue.

What is your favourite flower?

I really like lupins.

What is your favourite bird?

Hawks or owls. I really like birds of prey. Elf owls are really cute, and I like that they live in cacti.

What historical figure do you admire the most?

I was obsessed with Amelia Earheart and her disappearance when I was six.

What character in history do you most dislike?

Hitler? Mao? Stalin? All dictators although they are fascinating to learn about.

Who are your favourite prose authors?

Michael Winter, J.D. Salinger, Deborah Eisenberg, Naja Marie Aidt, Denis Johnson.

Who are your favourite poets?

Frank O’Hara, Charles Simic, Sylvia Plath, Ted Berrigan.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?

I don’t read about heroes; I read about anti-heroes.

Who are your heroes in real life?

My brother Kenny, my mother and my father. Kenny has actually gotten me out of terrible situations before, and I know if I was ever in trouble, I could call him even in the middle of the night and he would be there for me. He is not an aggressive or confrontational person, but he is very protective of people he cares about and would do anything for them. I respect that greatly.

Who is your favourite painter?

Anselm Kieffer used to be my favourite although lately I have been more into Rothko and Gustav Klimt. My favourite movements are abstract expressionism, expressionism, impressionism and neo-expressionism.

Who is your favourite musician?

Bill Callahan. J. Cole.

What is your favourite food?

Curry, dumplings, and, oddly, corned beef.

What is your favourite drink?

Coffee with only milk, especially Americanos or flat whites.

What are your favourite names?

PAUL.

What is it you most dislike?

When I have to take transit for a long time and it’s one of those days everyone on the subway or bus seems to be obsessed with touching me, standing near me or talking to me. I give people directions or am talked to by people who are bored or trying to convert me to a religion at least twice a week. I wish I was exaggerating. Little old ladies grab my arm when they lose balance. I have days where people’s hands are constantly brushing mine when I’m trying to hold onto the pole. It all makes me feel very uncomfortable, although I actually do like giving people directions and helping.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?

Refinement/grace.

How do you want to die?

I want to be very very old and tired and ready. I don’t know if people are ever ready, but I know I don’t fear death the same way I did even three years ago, so maybe it gets better with time. I hope it does. I want to have people I love around me. I’m still on the fence about whether I ever want kids of my own, but I always want to know people of all ages, even once I’m very old. I want to slip off into that darkness feeling like I did my best, that I tried to be good to people, that I had people to share this life with. I want it to be peaceful, a relief.

What is your current state of mind?

After that death question?????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Preoccupied with death! And a little bit hyper.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

So far, winning the National Magazine Award in Fiction in 2013 and having Pauls accepted for publication.

What is your motto?

Never stop.