If Sally Cooper were Proust


The unofficial version is that I met Sally Cooper when we were both select members of Ann Beattie‘s fiction workshop at Humber College. We became friends on the basis of some sort of mutual weirdness that expresses itself differently in both our writing and our lives. It is hard to say what I got out of Beattie’s workshop, other than getting to know Sally, whose novels I have been lucky enough to read in draft form, and who never disappoints my readerly or writerly expectations of what makes a good story.

In the official version, Sally Cooper is a bold, powerful writer whose work lays bare the human heart. The author of acclaimed novels Love Object and Tell Everything, she has also published short stories in several magazines such as Grain and Event. A long-time professor at Humber College, Sally Cooper happily devotes her time to writing and raising her two daughters in Hamilton, Ontario.

Whether she answered these questions while reclined, I could not say for sure, but it is fine if you imagine her lounging in a garden resplendent with peonies.

lady lounging

1. Your Favourite Virtue.
Radical honesty.

2. Your Favourite Quality in a Man.
See above. The truth is sexy.

3. Your Favourite Quality in a Woman.
Brilliant humour. I’ve been blessed to know many intelligent, funny women and each one has expanded my life considerably.

4.Your Chief Characteristic.
Creative drive.

5. What you appreciate most in your friends?

6. Your main fault.
Indecisiveness which has led to inaction and countless missed opportunities.

7. Your idea of happiness.
Living in a perpetual state of wonder, as Louis C.K. says of his four-year-old, waking up full of joy that “it’s all still here!”

8. Your favourite occupation.

9. Your idea of misery.
Disconnection from people I love and who care about me.

10. If not yourself, who would you be?
My daughter, in the best possible position to teach me how to best be a mother to me.

11. Where would you like to live?
New Mexico or somewhere remote, warm and coastal.

12. Your favourite colour and flower.peonies-2
Aqua and heady-scented peonies (but not aqua peonies).

13. Your favourite bird.
Herons. So prehistoric-looking and long-leggity.

14. Your favourite prose authors.
I’m a fickle reader. For instance, if you’re Ian McEwan or Richard Ford or Michael Ondaatje or Toni Morrison, say, I might love five of your novels but dismiss a sixth. Alice Munro, always. Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, Lorrie Moore, Lisa Moore, Cormac McCarthy, Annie Proulx.

15. Your favourite poets.
I love poets. Who could pick a favourite? Anne Sexton; Anne Carson; Michael Ondaatje; Pablo Neruda.

Atticus_Finch16. Your favourite heroes in fiction.
Atticus Finch.

17. Your favourite heroines in fiction.
Alice Liddle; Jane Eyre; Sethe in Beloved; Dell in Lives of Girls and Women; Scout

18. Your favourite painters and musicians.
Van Gogh; Miro; Chagall; Alec Colville; Georgia O’Keeffe; Emily Carr; Agnes Martin; Bruce Springsteen; Lucinda Williams; Gillian Welch; Ryan Adams

19. Your heroes in real life.

20. Your heroines in real life.
Foster mothers and single mothers.

21. What characters in history do you most dislike.
Hitler and his ilk.

boudica22. Your heroines in World history
Boudica, the anglo queen who led an uprising against the Romans in A.D. 61 in Colchester, where my mother’s family lives. Virginia Woolf.

23. Your heroes in World history.
Martin Luther King; Crazy Horse; Shakespeare.

24. Your favourite food and drink.
What’s forbidden to me now: a baguette with salted butter, a frosted glass of micro-brewed beer and a Hello Dolly square.

25. Your favourite names.
My daughters’ middle names. And all my characters’ names. (Mercy, Ramona…).

26. What you hate the most.
Having my secrets told.

27. The natural talent I’d like to be gifted with.
The singing voice of an angel.

28. How you wish to die.
I don’t wish to die.

29. What you wish to come back as.talking-rocks
A bird of prey or a sentient rock.

30. What is your present state of mind.
Over-sugared and brimming with peaceful ambition.

31. For what fault have you most toleration?
Loquaciousness. I love a good talker.

32. Your favourite motto.
Live and let live.

Follow Sally on Twitter @cooper_sally or dive into her brain here.


If I Were Proust

ProustMarcel Proust and I have several things in common. We’re both writers. We’re both over-writers–though I come nowhere near his graphomania. We like pastries–Madeleines, millefeuilles, whatever. And most of all, we enjoy spending much of our time reclined, though unlike Marcel, I have no servants and, thus, have to get out of bed every once in a while to fetch those pastries.

That said, having recently read through his answers to what has become known as The Proust Questionnaire, a series of questions that were meant to reveal a person’s character, I found myself wondering how writers I know might answer. Of course, Vanity Fair adopted a version of the questionnaire that it puts to celebrities every month. I know no real celebrities, but I do know many, many writers, especially here in Canada. So I intend to publish a series of their answers over the coming months, not only introducing their work, but their inclinations and aspirations, as determined by 31 questions–only slightly modified from the original ones that good old Marcel answered in 1890.

I will begin with myself, not only because I am the most readily available writer I know, but also because I’m still in bed as I type, which seems somehow appropriate.

1. Your favorite qualities in a man. Charming
Charm mixed with kindness. You sometimes get one or the other, but seldom both. Beware of free-standing charm.

2. Your favourite qualities in a woman.
Confidence and directness. I like a gal who can tell it like it is, without couching it in too much politeness or euphemism.

3. Your chief characteristic.
Open-mindedness. I am much more curious than judgemental. It helps in both writing and life.

4. What you appreciate the most in your friends.
Their intelligence and wit. Their ability to lend a sympathetic ear when necessary.

5. Your main fault.
Tendency to worry/be anxious. This may be the downside of an active imagination.

6. Your favourite occupation.beach
Sitting on the beach on a sunny day, staring at the waves and sky. Going into the water every now and then. I guess I was supposed to say writing…

7. Your idea of happiness.
A stretch of empty days that I can fill with whatever I please. If the weather is fine and the locale interesting, even better.

8. Your idea of misery.
A prison of responsibilities and obligations that you cannot escape, that sour the soul. Anything you don’t want to do but have to.

9. If not yourself, who would you be?
Lucinda Williams. At least for 3 days. But would she have to be me in the meanwhile? I wonder what she’d make of that.

10. Where would you like to live?
I like where I live now, but would love a life spent partially in exotic and tropical climes. Bora Bora, Fiji, somewhere with crystalline water, white sand and palm trees. I would take a Greek island in a pinch…

Star-Gazer-Lily11. Your favourite colour and flower.
Purple, of the deep variety. Any type of lily, but especially the tall Asian ones that smell like flowery butter.

12. Your favourite bird.
I’m partial to African Grey Parrots. I like a bird that can hold a conversation and make up its own vocabulary.

13. Your favourite prose authors.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Richard Ford, Truman Capote.

14. Your favourite poets.
I’m going to say Ruth Stone for today. Poems ambushed her in fields!

15. Your favourite heroes in fiction.
Jose Buendia in 100 Years of Solitude, especially after he was tied to the tree. I also have a lot of affection for Dell in Richard Ford’s Canada.

16. Your favourite heroines in fiction.
I’m currently enamoured with Isabel Archer in Henry James Portrait of a Lady.

17. Your favourite painters and musicians.
So many, but here are a few: Otto Dix, Modigliani, Francis Bacon; Bach, Jack White, Psarantonis

18. Your heroes in real life.
Rebels, geniuses, whistleblowers, and anyone who helps without expectation of reward.

nunfun19. Your heroines in real life.
Nuns. I think nuns are awesome. And what I said about heroes.

20. What characters in history do you most dislike.
Pick any psycho/sociopathic dictator and insert name here. And Stephen Harper.

21. Your heroines in World history.
Hypatia, Catherine the Great, Mata Hari.

22. Your heroes in World history.
Democritus, William James, Carl Jung.

23. Your favourite food and drink.martini-fruit
Japanese and Italian, and, as always, very dry vodka martinis, preferably with berries in them.

24. Your favourite names.
I’m partial to mythological ones: Persephone, Ariadne, Telemachus, Achilles, etc. People still have these names in Greece.

25. What you hate the most.
Aggressive stupidity.

26. The natural talent you’d like to be gifted with.
Singing. I’d give my left arm to be able to sing. Opera especially, but anything really.

27. How you wish to die.
Suddenly, without warning. Would save me from worrying and suffering. But I hear drowning is nice too.

tropical bird28. What you wish to come back as.
I was once told it would be a lemur, but I would prefer to be a very pretty, tropical songbird.

29. What is your present state of mind.
Quiet, but anxious at the same time. Yes, it’s possible.

30. For what fault have you most toleration?

31. Your favourite motto?
Expectation is the root cause of all suffering.

I trust you all feel you know me a bit better now, and won’t use it against me.