The Proust Questionnaire, with Michael Januska
Michael Januska is a Toronto-based publishing professional and the author of Grey Cup Century (Dundurn). Grey Cup Century details the most nail-biting and cheer-worthy moments of Canada's football history, from surprise upsets to breath-taking victories, all while telling the story of how an amateur rugby football club became the league loved by a whole country of fans.
In his answers to the Proust Questionnaire, Michael tells Open Book about when he'd like to live, the best ice cream floats and his excellent motto.
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?
Being able to make a living doing what I do. Nothing fancy, just making a living.
What is your idea of misery?
Where would you like to live?
There really ought to be a “when” attached to that. Greenwich Village in 1965. London in 1889. Paris in 1922. Florence in the 15th century, before the hotel rates went up.
What qualities do you admire most in a man?
What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
The ability to stick by a man who has suddenly lost his courage.
What is your chief characteristic?
What is your principal fault?
My patience can turn off like a switch. We all have our limits.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Kitchenware. I bought a potato ricer a little while back for a few too many bucks and I’ve used it only twice.
What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
The faults I also see in myself.
What do you value most about your friends?
What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Small-mindedness and the decision to make one’s ignorance a source of pride; intolerance; a sense of entitlement; hypocrisy.
What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
Gosh. Too many to choose from. Perhaps my penchant for self-loathing.
What is your favourite virtue?
Self-sacrifice — when it’s out of the spotlight.
What is your favourite occupation?
What would you like to be?
What I am right now. I just have to find the appropriate name for it in order to satisfy Revenue Canada.
What is your favourite colour?
Green. Not the green one finds in August, which is dull and tired, but the spectrum of green in April.
What is your favourite flower?
Any variety I happen to discover pressed in an old book.
What is your favourite bird?
Any variety not discovered pressed in an old book.
What historical figure do you admire the most?
What character in history do you most dislike?
Who are your favourite prose authors?
I love those long, baroque sentences of Henry Fielding’s. I also like the terse economy of Hemingway. And Dashiell Hammett’s witty sucker-punch. Oh — and the surreality of Flann O’Brien. I’ll stop there.
Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Odysseus. That was one hell of a commute.
Who are your heroes in real life?
When I was a kid, they were in the comic books, and that was real. When I had a kid of my own, and when she was little, it was anyone who could keep her out of harm’s way. But now she has her own heroes to defend her. I don’t know who my heroes are now. I must be at the stage in life where people generally start manufacturing their own. Are we back at comic books?
Who is your favourite painter?
The Abstract Expressionists: Kline, de Kooning, Pollock, Rothko… I like to see the paint. And the “combine” painters: Johns, Rauschenberg… the idea of combining paint with found objects was a revelation to me.
Who is your favourite musician?
What is your favourite food?
Pizza. I could eat it every day. The dough is a blank canvas. By the way, Windsor serves up some of the best pizza on the planet.
What is your favourite drink?
Straight rye on ice. A stout in cooler weather and a white beer in hot — there’s one out of Quebec I like. A dry vodka martini with three olives and no pimento. Flashback: when I was a kid, it was Vernor’s — real ginger ale made in Detroit. So powerfully effervescent, the bubbles went up my nose as I sipped it from the glass. And it made the best ice cream floats.
What are your favourite names?
I love those Old Testament names, like Belshazzar, Zadok, Bildad, Nebuchadnezzar. You don’t run into too many people with a handle like that. And I’ve always loved those names Hammett uses, quirky sorts of names that always sound like something other than just a name: Threefall, Cudner, Bliss, Guild, Chrostwaite, Sack, Yust… Spade.
What is it you most dislike?
Celebrity culture. Consumerism.
What natural talent would you most like to possess?
I wish I could play the piano. I gave it a try once, but I don’t think I had the right discipline, the right mindset. Maybe I should give it another go.
How do you want to die?
Who wants to die? All right, spontaneous combustion.
What is your current state of mind?
Suddenly very anxious.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Learning how to drive stick on a hill at night in the middle of a snowstorm. True story.
What is your motto?
Deleo Vestri Pes (Wipe Your Feet).
Check out all the Proust Questionnaire interviews in our archives.