Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Matt Cahill

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Matt Cahill

Matt Cahill's debut novel The Society of Experience (Wolsak & Wynn) got a strong start before it was even published, being listed by Harper's Bazaar as a most anticipated book and garnering praise from the likes of Tony Burgess and Andrew Pyper.

The Society of Experience is a literary thriller that opens with the death of Derrick van der Lem's father, a celebrated writer. In his mourning, Derrick is approached by the titular society to participate in an experiment involving time travel. When the experiment goes awry, Derrick finds himself in disorienting danger, unsure what is real and who to trust.

We're pleased to welcome Matt to Open Book today to take our version of the Proust Quesitonnaire, where we get to know authors on a personal level.

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.

Matt tells us about his favourite authors, why he's a dangerous skating partner and his other life as a psychotherapist.
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What is your dream of happiness?

No matter how I write it out (and I’ve attempted various answers to this over the last couple of days), my dream of happiness involves simple, meditative things: country, city, colour, aroma, flavour, voices, ideas. Perhaps most important: the uninterrupted passage of time to allow all of that to simmer and ferment.

What is your idea of misery?

Mandated nostalgia.

Where would you like to live?

I’m attaching my mailing address so that Open Book can send me the money necessary so that I may travel the world to answer this.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?

The ability to shut-up and listen to others as a means of learning, as opposed to thinking achievements are only made in stoic, self-aggrandizing movements.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?

The ability, despite what society expects of her, to do what many men find effective: ask for things they want, without being distracted by the odds of not getting it.

What is your chief characteristic?

Noticing patterns.

What is your principal fault?

Naivety.

What is your greatest extravagance?

On the day of my book launch, I bought a petit corona from Frank Correnti Cigars and walked across downtown, puffing on this lovely stogie in the cool air, to meet my brother in the lobby of the hotel he was staying at, who had come into Toronto for the occasion. It was important to grab a pint with him beforehand, perhaps because I needed to be anchored by something, and family is a good anchor.

I suppose what I’m saying is that extravagance can be subtle. And it beats getting a tattoo of the ISBN number.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?

Naivety.

What do you value most about your friends?

Most of my friends are non-conformists — practical non-conformists — so I value my friends’ implicit encouragement that I be myself, good times or not. Somehow we get the fact that it’s better to be honest than consistent.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?

Intolerance.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?

Intolerance.

What is your favourite virtue?

Conservation. Asking around before you throw something in good condition into the landfill. Using rechargable batteries, buying recycled tissue paper, and taking short stories that never launched and mulching their vitality into other works so as to make the best use of them.

What is your favourite occupation?

Solving the logic puzzle of a worthwhile story that’s bugging me to be figured out.

What would you like to be?

Focused.

What is your favourite colour?

Blue.

What is your favourite flower?

Tiger Lily.

What is your favourite bird?

Red Wing Blackbird.

What historical figure do you admire the most?

I have an abiding respect for anyone who passes into and through adulthood resisting the urge to destroy themselves or others in the process. There are millions who nearly starve to death every day — perhaps because of military occupation, or plain old poverty — who will wake up tomorrow and repeat the process of staying alive. I admire those who persevere.

What character in history do you most dislike?

The guy who killed my uncle would probably be on the Top Ten. That said, I don’t really know him.

Who are your favourite prose authors?

In no order, and based purely upon the cheap lottery of what my current state of mind (see question #33) produces: Knut Hamsun, Stephen King, Eudora Welty, Stanislaw Lem.

Who are your favourite poets?

I am modestly read in poetry, but, perhaps due to the anemic measure in which poetry enters my life, I’m rarely able to remember poet’s names for posterity — could there not be a textual SoundHound for poetry? In the meantime, allow me to plug poets and Buckrider labelmates Jeanette Lynes and James Lindsay.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?

Pirx, from Stanislaw Lem’s Pirx The Pilot.

Who are your heroes in real life?

Anyone who decides against hitting the pause button. People who insist on keeping their eyes and ears open, despite the comfort of not doing so.

Who is your favourite painter?

In general, Dark Romanticism and Abstract Expressionism have had a deep influence on me. In terms of artists who are alive, Dana Holst is a painter whose work always draws me in — so dark and loving, and somewhat vicious.

Who is your favourite musician?

There are too many, and what keeps me alive is that I discover more with every day. I love moments where I’m sitting in a café and something comes on the speaker and I’m jolted into asking, as if my health depended upon it, who the artist is — that is something quite unique to music, I think.

What is your favourite food?

Nasi goreng.

What is your favourite drink?

A Sazerac cocktail, or a pint of English bitter — I can never decide.

What are your favourite names?

Dutch names are pretty fun: Wim! Ada! Co!

What is it you most dislike?

The realization that every criticism I make of others might some day be used against me.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?

I can’t brake while skating. I coast off into the snow if I’m on a frozen pond, or gird myself to hit the boards if it’s an artificial rink. Just thinking about braking while skating makes me want to draw pictures depicting how impossible it is, in the hope that all the people who can do it are really unable to, and I’ve happened upon a great, impossible truth hidden from society. But, yeah, otherwise I’d like to be able to do that.

How do you want to die?

The death in Arcand’s film The Barbarian Invasions is pretty ideal — empathy in death is perhaps the ultimate send-off. Alternately, I’ll gladly take an aneurysm at a time of my choosing, probably in the woods to avoid a mess.

What is your current state of mind?

Peaceful, lucid. I’m not on social media right now, obviously.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

That I’ve had the opportunity to successfully develop two professions I could’ve told you I wanted to do when I was 18 (or earlier): to be a psychotherapist with a healthy private practice, and a published (and publishable) fiction writer. This is after working for 20 years in film and TV, and being able to walk away from that circus in one piece. Not bad.

What is your motto?

Making the best of a bad situation means not losing sight that it’s a bad situation.


Matt Cahill is a Toronto-based author and psychotherapist. He writes novels, short fiction and essays, and has contributed work to Ryeberg, BlogTO and Torontoist. His short story, “Snowshoe,” appeared in September 2014 with Found Press.

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