In June 2011 Open Book Toronto asked Don McLellan to take the Proust Questionnaire. The questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much-loved game of the French author and his contemporaries. It was believed the answers reveal the respondent’s true nature.
What is your dream of happiness?
I don’t really believe in “happiness,” and I certainly don’t dream of it, but I do believe in “contentment,” which I think is the best we can expect in this life. All things considered, I think I am that.
What is your idea of misery?
Likewise, I don’t have an “idea” of misery, although I’ve seen plenty of it. Some of it was in the countries I have lived and worked in, or just visited, but some of it was in the eyes of people here in Canada, rich and poor alike. Except for brief spells, I don’t believe I’ve experienced misery.
Where would you like to live?
In Vancouver, where I live. My office window looks up at the North Shore mountains. If I climb up onto my roof, I can glimpse the sea. The city’s 37,000 cherry blossom trees begin blooming in March. My neighbours are from Eritrea, Portugal, China, Malaysia and Italy. My wife is Korean.
What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Compassion, wisdom, independence, courage, humour and creativity.
What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
The same qualities I admire in a man.
What is your chief characteristic?
What is your principal fault?
I have been known to be impatient.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I love to buy books when I want them. I don’t like waiting for them to be available at the library.
What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
As I age I have become more tolerant of youth and the many delusions common to that demographic.
What do you value most about your friends?
Their acceptance of me, their generosity, humour and patience (particularly when I vent).
What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Hubris, selfishness and bitterness.
What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
As mentioned, I’m in the autumn of my life. Though it hasn’t always been the case, and I’m always willing to change, I’m reasonably satisfied with who I have become.
What is your favourite virtue?
What is your favourite occupation?
What would you like to be?
What I am – a journalist.
What is your favourite colour?
Shades of blue.
What is your favourite flower?
What is your favourite bird?
Young Soon, my wife of 34 years.
What historical figure do you admire the most?
The Unknown Soldier.
What character in history do you most dislike?
The war criminal and terrorist George Bush the Younger, Yale University’s most famous C- student.
Who are your favourite prose authors?
Here’s but just a few: Henry Miller, Ryszard Kapuscinski, James Salter, Hunter Thompson, Joan Didion, Carlos Fuentes, Gunter Grass, John Banville, Louis Ferdinand Celine, Charles Bukowski, Carl Hiassen, Ann Patchett, Samuel Beckett.
Who are your favourite poets?
Shakespeare, Pablo Neruda, Al Purdy, Alden Nowlan, Patrick Lane, Walt Whitman.
Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Who are your heroes in real life?
My late uncle and namesake, who played semi-pro baseball and boxed in Vancouver in the 1930s. Also David Suzuki, Nelson Mandela, Julian Assange and Tommy Douglas.
Who is your favourite painter?
Who is your favourite musician?
My singing daughter Michelle McLellan, who performs under the name Michi and who recently signed a recording contract. Her single, a European dance number called “Hysteria” (available on iTunes) is about to debut on the radio in Holland, Luxembourg and Belgium.
What is your favourite food?
What is your favourite drink?
What are your favourite names?
Hymie Toomer, Howie Bowles, Jean Lepinski, Edna Crumb, Dwayne Scales, Fenton Oswald, Wilbur Stark, Lonnie Swarmes, Rubin Snow, Archie Pell, Bevilacqua and Dewey Foster – all characters from my fiction.
What is it you most dislike?
I was raised in a war veterans’ housing project – so war.
What natural talent would you most like to possess?
The ability to hit a curve ball.
How do you want to die?
Does it matter?
What is your current state of mind?
Troubled. I’ve been running almost daily for more than 20 years and religious about my eating habits. I don’t smoke, drink or do drugs, yet two weeks ago I was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, which has metastasized. While I’m not in any physical pain – not yet, at least – the doctor says my prognosis is “not good.”*
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
What is your motto?
• Don McLellan has been cancer-free for more than five years. He has resumed running.