Proust Questionnaire: Making Mistakes.

As you might be aware, I’m working my way through the Proust Character Questionnaire as background research for the Book Project.The journey started here:

Continuing right along with the Proust Questionnaire, we’re now up to question 3:

What is the Trait you deplore most in yourself?

Addressing this question in 2015 well beyond the Victorian era when it was posed, I’m a little taken aback.

Aren’t you supposed to be asking me about my strengths before we get stuck into the weaknesses? Isn’t that how this thing works? Don’t I get an opportunity to shine before I hang out all my dirty laundry?



Well, I guess you could say things were a little different back in 1890 when Proust responded to the questionnaire as a teenager. This was long before phrases like: “Greed is good” and “looking after Number 1” came into vogue.

Indeed, dare I mention the Seven Deadly Sins:

  1. Wrath
  2. Greed
  3. Sloth
  4. Pride
  5. Lust
  6. Envy
  7. Gluttony

I might be wrong but it seems like the Victorians were more concerned about what they were doing wrong than doing right. After all, this seems the era where you constantly renovated yourself, rather than your house.

However, when it comes to the trait I most deplore in myself it has to be making mistakes. I really don’t like making mistakes and often feel like a bumbling idiot.

Sponge Cake

Sponge Cake

Take yesterday’s sponge cake for instance. I probably took it out of the oven a minute or two too soon, which meant that the top was still a bit too moist. There I was staring at perfection one minute and then the top stuck to the wire cooling rack and just like a skinned knee on bitumen, it was savagely ripped off. While it might have looked funny for the blog photo and made me look endearingly human, I didn’t want to be human. I wanted perfection. I wanted to swan around at home as if I’d just won Best Cake in Show at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show.

Violin Concert 2013.

Violin Concert 2013.

The same goes with playing my violin. I cringe every time that jolly instrument squeaks, even though violins are legendary for being difficult, temperamental and just plain nasty. If you think a two year old child can throw the world’s greatest tantrum, you haven’t met a violin and yet, they can sing like an angel too!

There I was two years ago practicing for my preliminary exam with my accompanist and it was so hot that my fingers were sliding down the strings. After all those months of practice, to have my performance compromised by the heat was almost the last straw. I could’ve hurled that violin straight of Sydney’s most famous suicide spot The Gap without a second thought.

Indeed, my aversion to making mistakes on my beloved violin was so intense that I arrived at the examination rooms an hour early to warm up (despite the heat). When there was nowhere to practice, I went downstairs onto Sydney’s busy York Street and set myself up in an empty bus shelter practicing away as bicycle couriers, buses and cars whizzed past. I didn’t care what anyone else thought. I was going to get my A…and I did!

So, as much as I hate myself for making mistakes, I do admire myself for those times where I keep pushing through, persevere and finally reach victory!

A family photo Mother's Day 2007.

A family photo Mother’s Day 2007.

When it comes to making mistakes as a parent, of course, the list is endless but at least I never left the baby at the bus stop or failed to pick the kids up from school. Most of what I term mistakes are actually more funny incidents in retrospect. Such as the time, our newborn son was still crying at 2.00AM and my husband put him in the pram and took him for a walk through the local shops and his screams were apparently quite deafening as they echoed through the empty streets. There was also the time we completely freaked out because he’d turned orange. We’d thought he was dying but he’d simply eaten too many orange vegetables. There were also his explorations which took him on top of the back shed at 2 years and looking like a scene out of Dead Poet’s Society, he marvelled at the “mountains” and how different things looked from up there. Another time, he fell off the back shed and Mummy caught him. He also got stuck exploring under the house and did I mention anything about climbing trees? Our daughter cut her finger when she was 3 and needed surgery after that.There have also been many hours where my children have had to occupy themselves as the ravages of living with my auto-immune disease took over.

Our Family 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

Our Family 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

I’m sure this list of parenting mistakes is only going to extend now that our son’s about to start high school and we’ll soon be embarking on the teenage years.

What I hate most about this fear of making mistakes, however, is not the mistakes I’ve actually made. Rather, it’s all the things I’ve never tried because I anticipated failure and gave up before I’d even started. This list is so long and very humbling but I have started working on it. I am moving forward with the book project and while attempting complex recipes I’d put off might seem a relatively trivial thing to overcome, I disagree. Baking can be a very non-forgiving science. When making sweets, you usually need to be very precise and precise isn’t my strength. I’m much more slap dash and intuitive. Moreover, due to my medical conditions, strictly following procedures and getting things in the right order isn’t always easy for me. So baking can actually  be quite challenging. Of course, these challenges multiply expediently when I’m cooking with the kids. Of course, they add a whole extra layer of distracting confusion, as much as I love cooking with them. It can be quite hard when I’m making something new and I don’t know what I’m doing and they can step in and add all the wrong things at all the wrong time, all with good intentions of course. Unfortunately, this is when my aversion to making mistakes rears its ugly head and I might snap at the kids, morphing into something of a Gordon Ramsay disgusting myself completely and it’s tears all roun.

Thank goodness for “Sorry”!

Fortunately, most mistakes aren’t fatal.

We can have another go and seriously who expects to get things right the first time? Yes, I know we all do.It would be great but it’s not realistic. It takes practice. trial and error. More error than success but giving up is a guaranteed fail.

When it comes to stuffing up our relationships, “sorry” is a good start but change is always possible and alongside sorry comes forgiveness. Not always possible but I’m talking more about garden-variety crimes than the big ones. We all hurt each other unintentionally possibly more so than through intent.

How could she do anything wrong?

How could she do anything wrong?

Although as a parent these days, I’m more focused on my parenting crimes, I still tend to gloss over those crimes I committed as a child. That same sense of entitlement I don’t like seeing in my own kids…a lack of appreciation to outright rebellion.

There was a certain party I had when my parents went away for the weekend but hey at least hordes of gatecrashers didn’t turn up along with a Police helicopter. As great a crime as it might have been, having a handful of trusted friends over could have been a hell of a lot worse. Moreover, the effort that went into devising a story to tell my Dad was worthy of an epic novel and gave us all quite a lesson in creative writing. Being a writer himself, he should have appreciated that but he had his “Dad” hat on at the time.

So, above all else, I owe my parents a huge bunch of sorries. Most of all for being critical of their parenting efforts and not understanding that everybody makes mistakes. That we’re all human and simply can not walk on water. That’s a hard lesson for us all!

I know we can't just rub out all our mistakes but it's worth a try!

I know we can’t just rub out all our mistakes but it’s worth a try!

The next question on the Proust Questionnaire is: What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Dare I say being perfect? Getting it right the first time?

Ouch! That’s tempting but as I said, I’m only human!

xx Rowena

20 thoughts on “Proust Questionnaire: Making Mistakes.

  1. Ngobesing Romanus

    A lovely post on making mistakes. everyone who reads this will go away richer. Well, mistakes are a part of life. No on never makes mistakes (Is this a mistake?). We should try as much as we can avoid making make mistakes but of course, we never get 100% all the times. Sometimes we will do without mistakes but sometimes we will. What is more important is not the mistake we have made but what we do with the mistake we have made. We can learn from our mistakes and do better in future. We can turn our mistakes into opportunities; our mistakes can strengthen our relationship with our spouse, or other close ones. We could go on and on. I want to really thank you for bringing up this very important subject.

  2. roweeee Post author

    Thanks very much, Ngobesing. I’m not sure whether you have been following my journey through the Proust Questionnaire but I’ve been looking at happiness and fear so far and it is proving to be an incredible journey. My answers are quite different to what I would have expected before I started.

  3. roweeee Post author

    My parents were born in 1945 and mum used to do really well at school but even still her Dad would ask her why she'[d got that one wrong. She really hated making mistakes and she’d cry if she wasn’t top in the class as a child. She used to learn the piano from the nuns and they’d rap you across the knuckles if you made a mistake. Both of my kids can be a bit reluctant to have a go but are getting better with age.
    Do you feel we’ve gone too far the other way these days where we praise kids even when they get it wrong?
    I am a real believer in developing resilience but for kids who are struggling to find their thing and don’t seem to be good at anything, you sometimes have to move the bar.

  4. derrickjknight

    We have gone too far, but a balance is necessary. Your grandparents and my parents grew up with Victorian parents. Add a Catholic education (in my case, Jesuit) and you have a perfect mix for a dominant superego.

  5. Ngobesing Romanus

    Thank you drear Rowan. I should be much keener now to follow what you are doing. Thanks for drawing my attention to it. You know how easy it is to get lost in the blogosphere and miss many important things going on.

  6. merrildsmith

    Congratulations on your perseverance on your violin exam and for facing your fears of failure and making mistakes. As for the cooking and baking, I thought of Julia Child, who talked about making mistakes in the kitchen quite often–and even did so on TV. I’ve had cooking “mistakes” that made for a better finished result. 🙂

  7. roweeee Post author

    Thanks Merril. It was interesting with that violin exam. My cousin had scored an A a few years ago as an adult doing his preliminary exam so that set a benchmark for me. However, the timing of the exam was dreadful. I developed severe pneumonia where I even stopped breathing for a few moments. I was really sick and my lung specialist said my lungs wouldn’t take another hit and I started chemo about 2 weeks later. This makes me sounds extremely strong-willed and determined, completely mad. I’d put so much effort into it that I didn’t want to bail out…or wait another year. I’m glad I did it as it’s been hard to get back to that intensity of practice since then. I was doing about 60-90 minutes a day and now I’m lucky to get 30 minutes done a few times a week but I’m plodding through 2nd grade now. I’ve made progress.

  8. roweeee Post author

    My father had a Jesuit education in Sydney. He left the Catholic Church in his 20s but he is very much a thinker and I think the Jesuit philosophy underpins much of his ideas. He really wanted us to think for ourselves but then when we became teenagers, he regretted it.

  9. merrildsmith

    I haven’t touched a violin since I was in high school, and I was never good then. Of course, I also did not do a whole lot of practicing. 🙂 What was this exam for? Was it a music conservatory?

  10. roweeee Post author

    In Australia, we have a body called the Australian Music Examination Board and they set the pieces for each exam grade for a whole range of instruments and they have examiners which grade you. They’re like the Trinity College people in London. The grades start with Preliminary, the exam I did and go up to 8th grade and through to AMUS and BMUS which are serious, professional and concert levels. So, my preliminary violin exam was the very humble beginning but it was still much harder than expected and I was very proud of my result. I had special consideration due to my muscle weakness etc.
    When I sat for my exam, I went into Sydney to the AMEB head office.

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