Proust Questionnaire: Heather Jessup

Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Prize nominee, Heather Jessup, shares her love of many writers, her desire to Flamenco and how she overcame her fear of dogs

Heather Jessup sideShortlisted for the prestigious Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Prize, to be awarded this October, The Lightning Field (Gaspereau Press) is Heather Jessup’s first novel. Currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto and a creative writing instructor at Dalhousie University, Heather lives in Halifax, after growing up in Vancouver. Here, she shares her love of many writers, her desire to Flamenco and how she overcame her fear of dogs.

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What do you consider your best quality?

I am not sure that one is able to recognize one’s own best quality. I feel much too close to myself to know this. But many people have claimed that I have a good laugh. I would like it if my laugh were my best quality.

A quality you desire in a partner:
Patience, humour, kindness, and the ability to make a good cup of coffee. (Oh dear, that’s four qualities. Apparently I have high expectations when it comes to love!)

What do you appreciate most about your friends?
Their effervescence and wisdom. I have incredibly bright, courageous, and remarkable friends.

Your worst quality:
Unlike our best qualities, I have a hunch we are able to recognize our worst qualities. Why is that? The ones I am willing to share with you: difficulty living in the present moment, and the ability to answer questionnaires. (Sorry, dear reader! I’ll try my best!)

Your favourite occupation:
Writing. Also: teaching, making jam, swimming in lakes, going for bike rides, dancing flamenco, letter-press printing, reading (snuggled under the covers), traveling and daydreaming.

What is your idea of happiness?
Paris.

Your idea of misery:
Insomnia.

If you could be someone else for a day who would it be?
I think I would like to live inside the mind of an animal. A whale. Or a crow perhaps.

Where you would most like to live?
Near the ocean. Surrounded by people I love.

Favourite colour:
Picking a single colour is very difficult for me. Probably the pink of a just-opened peony. But the particular dark that comes when you can see the stars is also pretty grand.

Favourite Animal:
Leroy the dog. He is the dog that, as an ambassador of his species, made me like dogs after being terrified of them as a child. His approach: taking my soggy mittens when meeting me at the bottom of a steep flight of Montreal stairs and carrying them up to my friend’s apartment for me, placing them ever-so-gently by where my boots would go. Mind you, Leroy is a personal friend now. I also like animals that I don’t know. I like most all animals: jellyfish, camels, sloths, beetles, cows, ravens, cats, tigers, bears. I think liking animals from a small age is why I am now a vegetarian.

Your favourite poet(s):
Oh! Imposssible! I love so many. Warren Heiti. Rainer Maria Rilke. Leonard Cohen. Pablo Neruda. Sheryda Warrener. Gertrude Stein. Wallace Stevens. Amanda Jernigan. Homer. Sue Sinclair. Basho. Issa. Nick Thran. W.H. Auden. Jan Zwicky. Darren Bifford. Seamus Heaney. Sue Goyette. Anne Carson. John Donne. Kate Hall. The author of Beowulf. Michael Ondaatje. Emily Dickinson. Don McKay. I could go on and on.

Favourite author(s):
Again! So many! F. Scott Fitzgerald. Anne Carson. Michael Winter. Michael Ondaatje. Lisa Moore. John Berger. Jorge Luis Borges. Sarah Selecky. David Mitchell. Steven Price. Virginia Woolf. Edward Albee. J.D. Salinger. Jennifer Eagan. Ernest Hemingway. Donald Barthelme. Alice Munro. Alexander McLeod.

Your favourite fictional heroes:
At the moment, Geryon the red winged monster in Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red. But there are many. Mrs. Dalloway is another.

Your real life heroes:
My goddaughter Autumn, who, while most of her friends were busy with high school, has survived leukemia twice with patience, good humour, and grace (while also doing her schoolwork from the hospital!); and my godson Eric, her brother, who is the most amazing brother I have ever met. I aspire to be as hilarious, generous and brave as these two in life.

Your favourite food & drink:
I love most all food, but at this very moment if I could have anything to eat I think I would choose fresh guacamole with corn tortillas and a gin and tonic with lime.

What is your greatest fear?
Regret.

A natural talent you’d like to possess:
I would like to be able to dance flamenco with true duende. Like how Lorca describes it: “Many years ago, during a flamenco dance contest in Jerez, a Gypsy woman of about eighty, competing against stunning young women with waists as liquid as water, carried off the prize by simply lifting her arms, throwing back her head and stamping her heel just once on the stage; but amid that gathering of muses and angels, of beautiful figures and pretty smiles, the dying duende won, as it had to win, dragging the rusty knives of its wings along the ground.” —Federico Garcia Lorca, “Teoria y Juego del Duende”

How you want to die:
Old, peacefully and in my sleep. Although, really, I suspect most people would chose the same. Tortured, dying of thirst, ripped away from family, in war, hungry, suffering, trapped: these are not deaths, I think, that people want. Although perhaps there are braver humans than I. What I think is best about death is that we have no idea how or when it will come. It is inevitable yet mostly unpredictable. If there was a book that told me how I would die, I would never want to read that book.

 Your present state of mind:
Dreamy. Likely because I ought to be focused.

Favourite or personal motto:
At the moment: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” —Ernest Hemingway

 This article was originally published in the Fall 2012 issue of Atlantic Books Today

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