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Secrets revealed - Proust's questions Numbers 19-25

Here's my fifth installment of answers to Proust's Questionnaire, originally a parlor game popularized by Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist. I'll continue to add these thought-provoking questions and my answers in a series of blog posts and hope you'll join me here often for more news about me and my work. Reveal your true nature by asking them of yourself.

19---What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Gosh, I don’t know. There is no singular achievement I can point to. I suppose that helping Cynthia rear our three children, Amanda, Caroline, and Daniel, is a great achievement. And now it has extended to assisting them with the upbringing of our six grandchildren. I have similar pride in considering all the teachers I hired in the several school districts where I was assigned as personnel administrator. When I first was promoted to that position in Durham back in 1977, my father advised me not to succumb to the politics of such a responsibility. I quickly replied that I didn’t intend to become entwined in politics, meaning the conflict between Democrats and Republicans. But that wasn’t what he meant. He was concerned with how I could withstand the fundamental stress that is present wherever and whenever groups of people interact. How one person deals with her/his fellow man/woman. Since then, I have come to believe that the lowest, most fundamental plane of politics exists at the school board level.


20---Where would you most like to live?

With Punky Momma, of course, and close to our kids and grandkids. Doesn’t matter where, although I have fond memories of islands in the Caribbean…St. John’s or Tortola, where there are inviting beaches, available sailboats to charter, few bugs to contend with, much sunshine (sometimes too much of it), and nearly constant breezes wafting temperatures between 85 in daytime and 65 at night. Sans hurricanes.


21---What is your most treasured possession?

The laptop computer I’m using right now, which holds all my writing. Of course, I have flash drives, too, for insuring that I don’t lose my writing. The grand reward I’ve sought after my retirement has been my writing. I’ve always wanted to write, but put if off while working to provide for the family. Now I’m able to express myself daily on the written page.


22---What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

It seems to me…and I begin with three words because I have had few glimpses of misery in my life…that true misery would come when one faces the prospect of suffering and having no way to escape. I have counseled myself, saying, “If you ever find yourself in this kind of situation, work to hang on as long as you can. Salvation could be right around the next corner.” I sincerely hope I’ll never have to take my own advice.


23---What would be your favorite occupation?

Writer. I admit to being a videophile, enjoying television and cinema immensely, but I yearn to emulate famous writers.


24---What is your most marked characteristic?

An affable, easygoing manner.

25---Who are your favorite writers?

Living writers…Tom Franklin and Martin Cruz Smith. Deceased, Tony Hillerman. Once upon a time I would have listed Ernest Hemingway at the top of the list, but I’ve read several biographies of him along with critical analyses, and they have led me to conclude that, while he was a great stylist with his lean, hard, athletic narrative, a writer who transformed modern literature with a bare, journalistic style, in his personal life he was a Philistine and a scoundrel who used up four wives and who often savaged his friends without warning or reason. He was a bigot and a bully, who used people merely as fodder for his imagination and ambition. Not someone to emulate in real life.

Franklin’s Poachers and Hell at the Breech are my favorite Franklin stories, partly because they occur in South Alabama’s Wilcox County, which he transforms into something akin to the wild west. Smith’s Renko books, which began with Gorky Park, immerse the protagonist in Russian murder mysteries, which, I suppose, is another type of wild west story.


I’m also intrigued by nearly everything that Shelby Foote produced, his fiction as well as his histories. When I see him on video, talking about the Civil War, I could listen for hours.


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