Proust Questionnaire: Dana Olson

Joseph Cardenas

Dana Olson sits at her desk, reading from one of her favorite books, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. “I like 19th-century Russian literature a lot,” Olson said. “‘Crime and Punishment [is] one of my favorites, so I love being able to teach that.” Photo by Joseph Cardenas.

The Proust Questionnaire, named after French writer Marcel Proust, is a series of 35 questions meant to gauge the personality and values of the answerer. This week, The Shield interviewed English teacher Dana Olson, asking her an abridged and edited version of the questions.

The Shield: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

DO: Being around people you care about and people who care about you. Just finding fulfillment in everyday life and not feeling like you’re constantly waiting for things to get better, but that things are good, and you’re comfortable with that.

TS: What is your greatest fear?

DO: To be murdered in a public restroom. Especially gas station restrooms; I hate them. They’re so scary; it’s like every time [I] go into a gas station bathroom, I feel like there’s a pretty good chance someone has been murdered there before. Anyone can be hiding behind that door just waiting to kill you. And I also don’t like walking on those grates on the street. I prefer to walk around them just in case they fall apart when I walk on top of them, and I fall into a sewer.

TS: What is a trait you most deplore in your life?

DO: I think overall, laziness. I have very little patience for people who are lazy and who feel like they just deserve things and that they don’t have to work hard for it. Laziness is something that I have very little respect for.

TS: Who is a living person that you most look up to?

DO: I’ve always looked up to my parents, [because] they’re good people. They’re caring, they always had really high expectations for us growing up, but they weren’t overbearing about it. My dad’s the smartest person I know, and as I got older I realized how much my mom did for me, and she’s just a really good mother.

TS: What is your greatest extravagance?

DO: Probably eating out. I eat out a lot because I love trying new things, and I think part of enjoying the place that you live is finding good local spots and trying new things, so I’m usually like, no budget when it comes to going out and having a really good meal. We all have memories associated with food, and so I think it’s a really powerful way of bringing people together.

TS: What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

DO: Maybe perfectionism. I don’t think that everything you do needs to be perfect; that’s an unrealistic expectation for yourself. There are very few things in your life that you’re going to look back on and be like, “Oh, I did that perfectly.” I think there’s a difference between hard work and doing your best work and being a perfectionist. You shouldn’t strive for perfection, because you’re always going to be disappointed. It’s OK to make mistakes, and if someone’s pushing you to perfection, then I don’t think that’s a healthy thing.

TS: On what occasion do you lie?

DO: I lie all the time. When my students say, “Are we your favorite class?” I always lie. I don’t know if you can publish that. My siblings think I’m a compulsive liar. I disagree; I guess sometimes I can be kind of dramatic, so I embellish my stories a little bit. They’re not lies; they’re just making my stories more interesting. I wouldn’t lie to anyone about anything serious, but things that aren’t going to harm them, like, “Are we your favorite class?” Sure. It’s not a lie, but it’s not the truth.

TS: Which living person do you despise?

DO: Taylor Swift. I do not like Taylor Swift at all. And I’ve never liked her, I’ve thought she was a poser from day one. So yes, this causes many issues on road trips, when people try to play Taylor Swift songs: it’s not gonna happen. Right now me and my fiancée are trying to make our wedding playlist, [and] because I am a kind and caring and loving individual, I have given him one Taylor Swift song instead of none; that was my compromise, one Taylor Swift song. You can choose whatever song you want, except “Bad Blood.” I think that is one of the worst songs ever written.

TS: What or who is the greatest love of your life?

DO: Obviously my fiance. I love him a lot. Maybe my dog, but my fiance is a much nicer person than I am. You should always marry someone who’s out of your league, I think, so I think, yeah for sure, he’s the love of my life. But I also was a really big fan of my dog. That was before we met though. My dog got me through some dark days, but now that my dog is gone, my fiance has stepped in and filled the void.

TS: Which talent would you most like to have?

DO: I wish I could dance. Dancing is more about a public thing, and when you can do really cool dance moves, I think people are real jealous of you. If you can hit a high note when you’re singing, yeah it’s cool, but if I could do some neat break-dancing moves or something, I feel like people would think that’s something way cooler.

TS: What is your favorite occupation?

DO: My dream job doesn’t really exist anymore because of the internet and blogging, but my dream job would be to write for Lonely Planet or those top 10 travel books, because that is the best job ever. You get paid to go stay in super nice hotels, to eat at super nice restaurants, to travel and all you have to do is write two sentence reviews on everything. That is the best job ever. So that would’ve been for sure my dream job, but I realized that it wasn’t really a practical [option]. It doesn’t really exist anymore, because there are so many travel bloggers that no one really goes and buys travel books anymore, and travel books aren’t really being updated anymore. And then I had met someone one time that worked for a company that planned personalized travel itineraries of  a few cities in Japan, so he had this company where that’s what he did, and so I was telling him about this like, “Oh my gosh, this would be my dream job,” and he’s like, “You need like 10 years of travel experience to even be considered [for the job],” and I was like, “Well, at this rate, books will be dead,” so I was like, “It’s just never going to be possible, and I’m not gonna start a travel blog.” I just wanted to jump to the part where you get paid a ton of money and get to travel. I don’t think you get paid a lot, but everything gets paid for. And then my sentences can be like, “Pillows were extra fluffy, and the service was excellent, five stars.” That would be the best thing ever, but unfortunately it doesn’t exist anymore. Now I’m stuck being a teacher. No, this is a very close second dream job of mine. Highs and lows, but definitely, I like that every day is different, and I like seeing people do well. I don’t like seeing people be lazy, but I like to see people do well, so it balances out.

TS: What are your favorite names?

DO: I don’t know; I’ve never been one of those people that’s like, “I have all my kids names picked out, blah blah blah.” That’s not really me. But when I have talked about it with my fiance, every time I know a lot of names that I don’t like, and I think the longer you teach, the more names you don’t like. I have 170 students, so that’s 170 names, and so if you’re a loser student, I’m always going to have a bad taste with that name, but if you’re a really good student then I’ll be like, “Oh, I had a student named so-and-so and they were so wonderful.” But I would never name my kid something where I feel like it’d be like a self-fulfilling prophecy or anything, because I was also a camp counselor, so also lots of kids, but there was this one kid named Phoenix, and Phoenix doesn’t really sound like the type of kid that would be quiet and reserved and good. He was a total lunatic, and I was like, “Well, obviously, his parents named him Phoenix!” Like, he kind of has this name that he has to live up to, where it’s just kind of an intense name. I feel like if they would’ve named him something like John, maybe he wouldn’t have been such a psychopath or something. Is there anyone named Phoenix at this school? Hopefully not, they might be a psycho.