Over on Weirdfictionreview.com, Edward Gauvin has reproduced a “Weird Questionnaire” developed by the French. I’ll leave you to peruse the details over there, but over here I am posting my answers to what are at times uncomfortable questions. Perhaps you too will answer the questions and post your answers. If so, please cross-link to Gauvin’s post.
1. Write the first sentence of a novel, short story, or book of the weird yet to be written.
There was a whirring in the back of the shop that did not equate to the clocks, but was not a cricket, either, and nothing he could think of explained it.
2. Without looking at your watch: what time is it?
3. Look at your watch. What time is it?
4. How do you explain this?—?or these?—?discrepancy(ies) in time?
Discrepancies in time are mostly about the ways in which our activities stretch or shorten it. But also about the ways time has become fragmented. The discrepancy in the time as it exists and my idea of time is so small because we have no way of escaping representations of time in this age.
5. Do you believe in meteorological predictions?
Yes, to some extent.
6. Do you believe in astrological predictions?
No, except inasmuch that those who believe in them are then thus influenced in their behavior. They are haunted by these predictions and through the haunting sometimes they come true.
7. Do you gaze at the sky and stars by night?
8. What do you think of the sky and stars by night?
Overwhelming and troubling and sad and unknowable and in that vastness there is an odd comfort because it keeps humankind’s accomplishments small and in a tiny corner of something larger.
9. What were you looking at before starting this questionnaire?
A bad book of SF stories by a Catalan writer named Manuel de Pedrolo from the 1960s.
10. What do cathedrals, churches, mosques, shrines, synagogues, and other religious monuments inspire in you?
Transformation. I am continually transforming them from their purpose when I enter them, especially the more ornate they are. I don’t care what they’re really for—I just keep seeing them as something else, and repurposing the parts of them as if they were the parts of something else—the ribs of a behemoth, instead of cathedral arches, for example.
11. What would you have “seen” if you’d been blind?
I would’ve seen more texture, which is itself an entirely other land that we tend to forget, and I would have noticed more the way that in cathedrals the air pushes out and in in strange ways and how there can be pockets of quite icy air and it can be hot other places, and although this has a real explanation, the encounter of it on the skin is often unexpected and raises a kind of primal response.
12. What would you want to see if you were blind?
I would want to completely absorb myself in texture and touch. This is a world that would be, in the context of blindness, perhaps both scary and at the same time revelatory and would change my entire perception of the world. In fact, I might want for a time to only have the ability to absorb this kind of sensation.
13. Are you afraid?
14. What of?
Of dying before I finish this next novel, or just of dying. Of the repercussions of response. I don’t like having to respond to a response. I feel like something’s being sucked out of me. More and more often, as I get older, I am afraid of other people dying.
15. What is the last weird film you’ve seen?
The “erotic” Sleeping Beauty was either unutterable odd or sadly mundane, I can’t decide. Melancholia was the same. I would like to say they were both weird, but I think they were probably both very ordinary. That would mean the last weird film I saw was…I cannot remember so it cannot have been very memorable.
16. Whom are you afraid of?
I am afraid of no particular person.
17. Have you ever been lost?
I was once lost in Rome as a child, or had the impression I was lost, and in my mind now, even if it may have only been a few minutes, it was hours and the nightmares I had later reinforced this, and I remember mostly people touching my blonde hair and the rather sharp shadows of late afternoon, so that everything was either so dark or ablaze and that feeling of disorientation—of not knowing exact where you were in the world, or where you might be in a few minutes and how at the time this was terrifying but that in memory now it is laced with some other emotion, as when you express horror to someone over something that has happened to you but some devilish and animal part of you raises part of your lip in a semblance of a smile because there is a tiny tiny little crumb of delight or heightened anticipation there too.
18. Do you believe in ghosts?
I believe in certain events that occur for which rational explanations may suffice but for which those explanations may not entirely reward you or satisfy you. There are moments in the natural world, when hiking, or moments when I am not thinking of anything at all—I am not cluttered with anything—that there is a sense of something shining through. There are coincidences that feel like miniature ghosts.
19. What is a ghost?
Regardless of the “fact” of a ghost, a ghost is anything you let inside your head that haunts you or that haunts others. A ghost becomes real most times because you let it or you cannot avoid it. A memory is a special kind of haunting.
20. At this very moment, what sound(s) can you here, apart from the computer?
There is a garbage truck backing up somewhere in the neighborhood and the cat’s breathing and snoring is somewhat loud and the refrigerator is humming or whining, or a bit of both, and there is a flock of geese passing somewhere very high overhead so that I can hear just a tiny bit of their honking. The highway is somewhat close, and although we usually edit out this sound, I can hear the continual rush of cars in the distance. Outside the window, there’s a scurrying, whirling dead-leaf sound as the squirrels run around. A dog is barking somewhere.
21. What is the most terrifying sound you’ve ever heard?–?for example, “the night was like the cry of a wolf”?
Possibly the sudden impacting dull crack as a car hit a pickup truck right in front of me at an intersection, and then the silence as the truck was flung and overturned, and then the second dull crack as it hit the pavement again. But it wasn’t the sound that was terrifying—it was the silence in between, which seemed to last forever and also to fit on the head of a pin. Thinking about it later, I thought of the silence as a door—that there was something opening in the silence that had nothing to do with the accident that had just occurred.
22. Have you done something weird today or in the last few days?
I attached strawberries to the end of strips of tape and hung them from the blades of a ceiling fan. I also threw cornbread out of a car window. I got into an argument with a bird. I don’t know if these things qualify as weird. Perhaps the weirdest thing I did recently is to down the last of my painkillers for my teeth while watching the movie Melancholia, which only made me a little paranoid for awhile, and afterwards was in a hyper yet tired state in which I kept thinking that perhaps the tiny cracks in the ceiling were actually doors to other places. But this wasn’t so much a natural state of being weird but of my writer’s mind willing me to find something strange so that I might write it down.
23. Have you ever been to confession?
No. I am not a religious person.
24. You’re at confession, so confess the unspeakable.
When I was ten, a kid came up to me and cheerily said hello and for no reason at all I punched him in the face. I once stole a bunch of Anais Nin novels from a bookstore as a teenager. I have [---------REDACTED] and I have gone into [--------REDACTED] and [------REDACTED]. I once wanted to have [------------REDACTED] and I have also [--------------REDACTED] about [REDACTED]…The truth is, for all that we live in a world with no privacy, there are penalties for not appearing to always be the hero of your own story and none of us will usually own up to something truly terrible.
25. Without cheating: what is a “cabinet of curiosities”?
A collection, usually eccentric or regulated by some eccentricity in the collecting impulse, that can be composed of items from the natural world, like sea shells, or can be composed of objects created by humankind. The importance of these collections often lies not so much in the items themselves but in the curious qualities of the mind that acquired them.
26. Do you believe in redemption?
Yes, because I believe in forgiveness and reconciliation. Not doing so is a kind of madness.
27. Have you dreamed tonight?
28. Do you remember your dreams?
29. What was your last dream?
I was in a city that was anonymous and had buildings with very strange inward curving walls and lots of random doors and windows and little narrow passageways between them and the sky and sun seemed to be impossibly far away because all of these buildings reached very high and were connected by a series of pathways that interlinked. And I was slowly being devoured by a group of people so that each day it was harder to get out and sightsee. I was sightseeing on vacation! But also being slowly cannibalized, and this was normal in the city and I thought it was normal, even when I was crawling through the passageways because I had no legs. And my goal was simply to see the blue of the sky each day, but I did this not in a literal way. Because there were shadows embedded in the walls of the buildings that were actually the essence of living people, and so what I would do is I would find ways to trick these shadows into telling me stories about the sky, and I was quite successful at this. Sometimes I would trade stories for their stories. And sometimes their stories would open up the dream to me so that I would be in another place entirely. For example, one time a shadow told me a story that led to me experiencing a strip of wilderness with water on either side—a kind of hiking trail, except that there were strange beasts in the water. The crocodiles weren’t really crocodiles but something much larger with little islands on their backs and I could see other huge things curling out of the water, and I would have to walk as far as I could possibly walk while these things were on either side, and eventually they would begin to come onto the land and I would start running, and that’s when I would disengage from the dream if I could, in my head, and be back talking to the shadow that had sent me there. And eventually in this dream, I realized I was continually regrowing my legs and arms so that I would never actually die, but continually be devoured, and at that point for some reason I stopped being afraid in the dream and once I stopped being afraid I was able to start writing in my head and eventually I became a shadow on the wall, except that this last part is a lie to provide closure to the dream so I don’t think of myself being cannibalized and didn’t happen at all, but if I remember it as part of the dream then eventually that will be the dream I had.
30. What does fog make you think of?
The things that come out of it unexpectedly. These things can be quite ordinary, but the fact they come out of the fog renders them extraordinary. In a way, you could say that fog brings clarity to whatever emerges from it.
31. Do you believe in animals that don’t exist?
The question makes my brain want to knife itself for some reason. But returning to this after a second, I would like to believe in animals that don’t exist even as my mind continues to revolt and to resist me in this matter.
32. What do you see on the walls of the room where you are?
Paintings, a fire extinguisher, more paintings, a clock, different types of texture, from wood to plaster and there’s a fire place embedded in one of the walls and curtains and a window across part of it.
33. If you became a magician, what would be the first thing you’d do?
Light things on fire.
34. What is a madman?
Often, someone who isn’t properly understood. Sometimes just someone has mistaken certain signs and symbols for what they are not.
35. Are you mad?
Sometimes. Sometimes I feel like I am mad quite literarlly and intrinsically, without outside stimuli, but then also when what I believe about the world seems to mystify other people. You can be made to feel mad simply by holding a minority opinion. This can also occur when the narrative you have created for your life and the life of others is revealed to be false or incomplete—in other words, when it becomes clear it is a story you have been telling.
36. Do you believe in the existence of secret societies?
37. What was the last weird book you read?
Jean Ray’s Malpertius novel, but also a collection of stories by Ralph Adams Cram.
38. Would you like to live in a castle?
39. Have you seen something weird today?
Something was sticking out of the trash can that wasn’t there last night. I thought maybe someone had put it there and then I wondered why someone would put it there. A black cat was watching me that was at first friendly and then hissed at me. This wasn’t weird, though. There were a lot of mushrooms in strange shapes in the front yard, but, again, this isn’t really weird.
40. What is the weirdest film you’ve ever seen?
I am tempted to say anything by David Lynch, but in fact I think Santa Sangre is one of the weirdest movies I’ve seen, given the time at which I saw it. I am sure I will remember something else well after completing this questionnaire.
41. Would you like to live in an abandoned train station?
Yes, actually. I think an abandoned train station would be comfortable, and it would be full of the people who had passed through it, but in a good way, a companionable way. No one would have spent enough time there to have made it their home.
42. Can you see the future?
I can. I have experienced several precognitive dreams, always of small moments in places I haven’t been yet and each time when these small moments then occur, the hairs on my arms stand up and there is a sense of having glimpsed something that was both totally unimportant and yet also tremendously important. And then sometimes, a sense of unease for a short while.
43. Have you considered living abroad?
Vancouver Island or Australia.
There is a sense to the wilderness in both places that is somehow incredibly alluring and that fills me with a feeling of peace and strangeness.
46. What is the weirdest film you’ve ever owned?
Probably also Santa Sangre.
47. Would you liked to have lived in a vicarage?
There is something about the word “vicarage” that to me implies “cozy” in an unattractive way.
48. What is the weirdest book you’ve ever read?
I would like to say Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, or Deborah Levy’s Beautiful Mutants or perhaps Michael Cisco’s The Great Lover, but the truth is that the answer might change day to day, because all new reading recontextualizes old reading in a way that can render the old reading either more or less strange. Books haunt each other.
49. Which do you like better, globes or hourglasses?
Globes. Hourglasses just do one thing, repetitively.
50. Which do you like better, antique magnifying glasses or bladed weapons?
Antique magnifying glasses.
51. What, in all likelihood, lies in the depths of Loch Ness?
The sedimentized remains of countless creatures pushed into one another and made unrecognizable by the weight of what’s on top of them. But the fact is we can’t quite know exactly what’s there.
52. Do you like taxidermied animals?
I both like and dislike taxidermied animals because in the often unnatural poses there is a kind of strange glassy life that’s unnerving because it stands out, and also because I prefer live animals…but if I like them it is because they remind me of the wilderness.
53. Do you like walking in the rain?
Yes. I find it to be a real experience sometimes in a spiritual sense, especially if hiking.
54. What goes on in tunnels?
Unsavory and delightful things. Things that require clarity and distance and obfuscation. A tunnel is a kind of anticipation that usually ends in disappointment by the time you’ve escaped out the other end, but for the moment, in the moment, it’s somewhere subterranean and if you’re lucky there’s that amazingly fertile accumulation of green moss between bricks and the cool, clean smell of dank, damp air. At least.
55. What do you look at when you look away from this questionnaire?
A cryptozoological print by Jan Svankmajer.
56. What does this famous line inspire in you: “And when he had crossed the bridge, the phantoms came to meet him.”?
A sense of camaraderie.
57. Without cheating: where is that famous line from?
You are a bastard, Weird Questionnaire. Without cheating, I would like to say it’s from the old Washington Irving story, but I know that must be wrong. There is also an odd affinity with the dark riders of Lord of the Rings. But these are just echoes. It feels almost like a homecoming in the way it’s written.
58. Do you like walking in graveyards or the woods by night?
I am not fond of walking in the woods by night as that is a good way to get lost and never be found. Walking in the woods at night is also incredibly unnerving and it makes every hair on the back of my neck stand up and it also fills me with a kind of primal dread. Walking in graveyards at any hour does not particularly bother me. I do not receive any frisson of untoward atmosphere in doing so.
58. Write the last line of a novel, short story, or book of the weird yet to be written.
There was nothing he could do, so he embraced the thing before him.
59. Without looking at your watch: what time is it?
60. Look at your watch. What time is it?