Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with H. L. Hix

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H. L. Hix

"Ley lines" may be a term more familiar to historians and archaeologists than book lovers, but it is a perfect fit for a new anthology edited by H. L. Hix. Ley Lines (Wilfrid Laurier University Press) brings together dozens of artists and writers (including Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Johanna Skibsrud), giving them the opportunity to both respond to one another's work and speak to their own output. This interaction between visual artists and authors points to H. L.'s choice of title — ley lines are alignments thought to exist around sacred sites, like England's stonehenge. Whether these alignments are remnants of the pre-Roman era, spiritual hotspots or simply coincidence is hotly debated. Playing with intersectional nature of artistic genres, however, is an innovative and exciting approach to the idea of alignment, and Ley Lines is essential reading for those interested in how writers draw inspiration and energy from other art forms.

Today H. L. joins us to take on the Proust Questionnaire, where he tells us about a "Powerhouse" character, a road trip novel we'd like to read and how people are like grass.

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.

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Where would you like to live?

Though I’ve lived in many cities and towns in the U.S. midwest, I’ve never lived on either coast or (for longer than four months) in another country. I would love to live in a city on the Pacific coast: Seattle or Vancouver. Or in one of the “culture hub” cities: New York, Toronto, London. Or for a year elsewhere: Stockholm, Madrid, Hong Kong.

What is your principal fault?

I once interviewed my maternal grandmother about her life. Afterward, my ex-wife made fun of me, on the grounds that in the interview every time my grandmother offered something personal or emotional or intimate, I promptly steered the conversation back to facts. And you think I’m going to answer this kind of question? In public?

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?

Presumption, a sense of entitlement. Arrogance, condescension. OK, maybe that’s four characteristics, but they’re related.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?

Pettiness, resentment. In my vocation, reward has little to do with the quality of the work, so I spend a lot of emotional energy envying other writers who receive rewards that I think exceeds their work’s merit, but not much time reminding myself to what extent the rewards I have received exceed the merits of my work. I hate it for being a moral flaw, but even more for being a waste of time and mental life.

What would you like to be?

I consider writing my vocation, so I wouldn’t want to be anything else permanently, but there are many things I wish I could be just for a day. An olympic-level distance runner: what would it FEEL like to run 10,000 meters in 27 minutes? A chess grandmaster: what would it be like to SEE what a grandmaster sees in a position on a chessboard? A virtuoso classical guitarist: what would it be like to hear “Misionera” sounding from strings my own fingers were playing? I wish these fantasies arose from some inner nobility, but obviously they’re merely forms of curiosity, or maybe even forms of the envy noted above.

What is your favourite colour?

It gives me good pirate names when I play that party game: Harry Raptor Black and such.

What is your favourite bird?

My maternal grandfather gave me a field guide to North American birds when I was just learning to read, so I have had a lifelong fascination with birds. My mother still tells the story of my excitement as a first-grader when I saw from the window of the car a bird I declared to be an indigo bunting. So for today, let’s say that of my many favourite birds my very favourite is the indigo bunting.

Who are your favourite poets?

Dead poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins, from the moment I first read one of his poems, decades ago. Living poets: Kate Northrop, whose poems are as inexhaustibly mysterious as any I know. However suspect my motives for saying so (Kate and I make our home together), the assertion still is true.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?

In her story “Powerhouse,” Eudora Welty has her made-up character Powerhouse make up another character, Uranus Knockwood. In the recording I have of Welty herself reading the story, the call-and-response of the characters, all spoken in Welty’s Mississippi drawl, is gorgeous:

“Uranus Knockwood!”
“Yeahhh!”
“He take our wives when we gone!”
“He come in when we goes out!”
“Uh-huh!”
“He go out when we comes in!”
“Yeahhh!”
“He standing behind the door!”
“You know him.”
“Middle-size man.”
“Wears a hat.”
“That’s him.”

I love Uranus Knockwood. I’m thinking of getting a hat.

What is your favourite food?

My partner makes a sublimely delicious shrimp fra diavolo. Sharing that dish and a bottle of wine with her is a sublime experience.

What is your favourite drink?

I think I can do this without devolving into advertising particular brands. A nice Nero d’Avola tastes mysterious to me, as if it had been recovered from the hold of a sunken ship. A good stout sports a texture more like pudding than like a lager. And a decent scotch doesn’t need any description from me. Besides their flavors, though, they share a virtue with the shrimp dish just mentioned: each serves pretty reliably to indicate that I am sharing an evening with my partner.

What are your favourite names?

I want to write a picaresque buddies-on-a-road-trip novel featuring two stumblebums named Al Fresco and Al Dente.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?

I wish I could sing.

How do you want to die?

The easiest question on the list. Courage is not a virtue I possess, so let me die suddenly, in my sleep. No warning, no awareness, no pain. Apparently, fortitude is not among my virtues, either.

What is your current state of mind?

In her Writings, Agnes Martin declares: “In real life we get everything we want and need, just like the grass.” That’s how I feel. I have everything I want and need.


H. L. Hix is the author or editor of more than two dozen books. His most recent poetry collection is As Much As, If Not More Than. He lives with the poet Kate Northrop in an 1880s railroad house in the mountain west, and writes in a studio that once was a barn. His website is http://www.hlhix.com.

Check out all the Proust Questionnaire interviews in our archives.

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