I first ‘met’ Liesl Jobson a few years ago on a writing forum. That was back when I wasn’t very good (she was). It was back when I’d do embarrassing things like Not Understanding Things Properly (I remember, very clearly, NOT getting a metaphor – good one; (it was not an ACTUAL fish, Nik, it was a penis).
But things change. I got better, for one.
And Leisl has a new book out. It’s called Ride The Tortoise and it’s a short story collection (there’s an eBook edition too). And to celebrate I invited her over here. We decided to do something a little different. We decided she’d take The Proust Questionnaire. I love it.
Liesl Jobson Answers the Proust Questionnaire
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being able to create without anxiety. That, however, is a state that comes and goes, more the latter than the former. That said, not writing causes more anxiety than writing, even if the subject of my endeavour gives cause for misgivings.
What is your greatest fear?
Being discovered as a fraud.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Which living person do you most admire?
Some days my mother. Some days my father. They are such fine people, kind, smart, whole-hearted, and unafraid to show the world their true colours.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
The seemingly relentless tendency towards self-sabotage. So often I find myself very close to completing a task over which I have laboured for hours or years – like this questionnaire – and I dither and dawdle till I drive myself (and those who love me) quite mad.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Bullying – from the lowliest playground thug to the presidents of nations who disregard the humanity of those who are littler in strength and stature, financial capacity, social standing or personal resilience.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Designer heels. I can’t help it. They are terrible for your feet, damaging to your spine, ruinous of the wallet. They are so politically incorrect but they feel so damn good to wear and they are never pedestrian.
What is your favorite Journey?
The ride to Zeekoevlei where my scull rests on a rack in the Alfreds Rowing Club boathouse.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Charity. It is too often an unconscious attempt to placate one’s own conscience.
On what occasion do you lie?
When it is prudent to do so.
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
My bitten fingernails – see self-sabotage above…
Which living person do you most despise?
A southern African head of state who has committed a long list of atrocities perpetrated against his own people.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
‘To be sure, to be sure…’ which I can’t resist analysing as an attempt at garnering a secure foothold in a shifting landscape. Surely? My beloved says I use “certainly”… more of the same affliction, probably.
What is your greatest regret?
Je ne regrette rien.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Books and boats. Stories and sea. The embodied imagination.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would love to hold big narratives in my head and write novels. They are in my heart, but while that is a good place from which one must write, the head is where the big narrative is constructed. And mine is far too disorgnised for that.
What is your current state of mind?
Growing in confidence.
If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
I would have them all much taller and sturdier of limb so that I might have inherited the genes that would have made me an ace rower, rather than an average one.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Winning the women’s race of the Melck Run last year. I was so anxious before this 22km race down the Berg River in the middle of winter that I would fall out and freeze to death that I sat in the car beforehand weeping in terror. My main ambition was to stay in the boat and finish the race. To my great astonishment I, who had until recently been a card carrying member of the Couch Potato Association, was the first woman home.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
In my theology, which I concede is a watery thing, I will come back to learn that which my soul most needs to become enlightened. My deepest held belief is that in my last life I died by my own hand. I view it as the task of this lifetime to learn to negotiate the hideousness that life inevitably delivers without resorting to suicide.
If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
This question is as incomprehensible to me as asking an infant what language he or she would like to speak when the time comes to acquire speech.
What is your most treasured possession?
My late mother-in-law’s diamond ring. She was an actress in her youth and exceedingly beautiful and she deeply loved me. It features in a story I wrote where the narrator, faced by a gunman, swallows the ring. I have told my family that if I die a violent death and the ring is missing they should insist on autopsy to find it.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
There have been moments when reality buckles and I have had no language to articulate the horror to which I have been party. There are no words to describe the things I wish I had never seen.
Where would you like to live?
The Albert Falls Game Reserve where I could breakfast with zebras and then row on the Albert Falls Dam while eagles swoop across the sky.
What is your favorite occupation?
Rowing. Or reading? Hard to choose… Or eating, or sex, or sleeping??? Are these occupations?
What is your most marked characteristic?
A spirituality that encompasses sexuality, creativity, compassion and devotion to personal integration. But how narcissistic is that? My long hair that has earned me the name Rapunzel is probably the most visible thing.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
The willingness to take responsibility for his own consciousness whilst not trying to fix or sort out mine.
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
The courage to be vulnerable and to put down shame.
What do you most value in your friends?
They accept my eccentric silences without taking umbrage and have the remarkable grace to remind me what is truly important in life when I lose my way.
Who are your favorite writers?
Etgar Keret, Miranda July, Diane Awerbuck, Alice Munro, Lydia Davis, Jeanette Winterson and Ivan Vladislavic.
Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Eh… every author named in the previous answer has at least five narrators who gripped my mind while I read their words. No way to select a single hero(ine).
Who are your heroes in real life?
The people I love who have suffered greatly and who forgave me for having a hand in their troubles; in particular those who didn’t quit when they really wanted to and could have done.
What are your favorite names?
Jemima and Pearl, for the daughters I never had. My father still calls me “Big girl”…
What is it that you most dislike?
The modern shopping mall is a version of Hades I can live without. The only reason to frequent such a place is to say goodbye to your money whilst acquiring stuff you don’t need and eating food that probably never grew in the untrammeled light of day.
How would you like to die?
After I’ve turned 100 I wouldn’t mind saying farewell from a single scull. However, it would be inconvenient for those left behind to sort out the matter of my corpse somewhere in a lake. The headline would make a splash, I guess. A psychic once told me that I will die in public so I’m trying to get used to the notion that I won’t die alone with the attendant quietude that a private demise grants one.
What is your motto?
There are acres of diamonds in your own back yard.