Proust Q 5.0 august 2009: Gaylene Dempsey

August 11, 2009

Welcome to this month’s profile Proust Questionnaire 5.0. (What’s this? See bottom of the page.)

Gaylene and friend

Gaylene and friend

Music is one of the ways I know Gaylene Dempsey. The Tragically Hip in a Brandon hotel room (settle down), Uncle Tupelo (well, the vinyl, at least) in the front room of her Spence Street apartment in Winnipeg. Food is another way; she’s trying to talk me into briquet BBQing. Ain’t going to happen. Another way to know her is through God, or at least her conversations with God, which are a vigorous part of her life on Facebook, where we reconnected after a couple of decades. I like that God talk and what it brings out in her friends. Here’s Gaylene answering this month’s Proust Questionnaire 5.0 from Winnipeg.

Since we are conducting this interview via email, the world is ours for the inventing. In what city and establishment would you like this interview to be taking place?
There’s an Egyptian pancake house in the Midan Hussein in Cairo … that would be nice. Or, mmm, even better, the Cattlemen’s Steakhouse in the Oklahoma City Stockyards. Or what about on a boat in Lake of the Woods? Or the beach in Morro de Sao Paulo in Bahia, Brasil. My imagination runs wild…

Who and what would you be wearing?
Well if we were in LOTW or Bahia, I’d likely be in my bathing suit and a sarong. And let’s just say Tyler Perry would be draped all over me (that brother is fine).

And, most importantly, what would we be drinking?
Tonic water with lime always (although I doubt I could get that in Cairo, so I’d be drinking shai). Tonic is a habit I’ve always had (used to be with vodka, but that was oh so long ago) which got refueled in Brasil. Everyone drinks tonic water on the beach there … so refreshing.

Fave fictional hero: Underdog

Fave fictional hero: Underdog

Okay then. What are the qualities you most admire in others?
An open heart. It takes so much to leave your heart open in this big bad world. And when I meet someone with a wide open heart … it kinda makes me melt.

What do you like most about yourself?
I’ve learned – once again – that a full life has absolutely nothing to do with money. I’m currently unemployed and I’ve never had so much fun, gotten so much healing, so much insight, experienced so much freedom. It’s a beautiful thing when you realize that time is money and the things that God can do with your time…unbe-fricking-lievable.

That’s easy … my potty mouth. I got it in the music business … lost it when I left. But now that I work so closely with inmates, criminals and gang-involved youth it just creeps back in too easily.

What is your greatest achievement?
I conceptualized, applied for, received funding for and coordinated the ROUTE Program to work with 45 at-risk refugee youth from Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Afghanistan etc. The idea was to try and keep them out of trouble, gangs and criminality. Although we had mixed success (7 kids in the justice system and 2 teen pregnancies), I’m honored to have known all those kids and many of them are still in my life.

What is your present state of mind?
Bliss baby Bliss.

Where and when are/were you happiest?
It usually has something to do with a beach and the sounds of waves so the cottage I rent lakefront on Lake Manitoba makes me pretty darned happy. Or my room on Praia dos Santinho in Florianopolis, Brasil.

What, currently, do you most love doing?
Being a hope dealer to the dope dealers in the hood who need to know the truth.

What was your worst job?
Doing word processing for a business. I just could not master the codes for Word Perfect and I’m not the best typist. I quit after 3 days.

Your favourite colour?
Orange and its cousins (yellow, brown, burnt sienna etc).

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Renting a cottage at Laurentia Beach on Lake Manitoba. Facing west over the lake. No phone. No computer. No stores within 3 kilometres. Just me, God, an old one-speed bicycle, and the lake and all it offers (thunderstorms over Lake Manitoba are beyond compare).

Of misery?
Being stuck in any place with no ethic food and only McDonald’s. That would make me want to die.

If not yourself, who or what would you be?
Dayaaammm. It took me this long to like myself. Why be anyone else? But I do have a deep desire to be a music supervisor on films and to be an author of a book on my experiences with the African Mafia.

Where would you like to live?
Barcelona ♥ or Minneapolis ♥ are the only two cities that have captured my heart completely.

What is your favourite journey?
Turning off the highway and driving towards Lake Winnipeg on a hot summer day (and honestly even in winter). There’s something about that fuzzy horizon line of the lake melting into the sky (or vice versa) always makes my heart sing.

What is your favourite or most memorable meal and when is the last time you indulged?
Ouch. Hard questions for a foodie! Favourite is different from memorable.
FavouriteBarbecued Cowboy Steaks done on my Weber charcoal grill.
I also like African food so much I’m being taught the recipes. I make a mean doro wat (chicken in berbere sauce) and salad aswat (eggplant and peanut butter dip).
Most memorable – Hmmm would it be the steak at Peter Luger’s in Brooklyn? Or the sausage on the street in Prague? Or that Cubana torta sandwich at Manny’s tortas in Minneapolis. Nope, would have to say it was sashimi served with thinly sliced lime that I ate in Sao Paulo, Brasil … home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan.

Name the person who influenced you most and how.
Lue, who I like to call my semi-foster son. He’s a Sudanese refugee who lost his mom and who let me teach him how to keep his heart open. He also loved me back when I felt I least deserved it.

Name the film/song/book/art that influenced you most and why?
Book – I’d have to say Born Free. It opened my eyes to Africa at a very

Jesus Christ Superstar on DVD

Jesus Christ Superstar on DVD

early age.
Art – I saw an exhibit of Diane Arbus photos inside a villa on a canal in Venice and it always haunted me. She captures the oddballs and pathos of life in a way that no other artist even comes close.
Song – It’s not my favorite, but “Have a Talk with God” from Songs of the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder is the one that most INFLUENCED me as I am today.
Film – Jesus Christ Superstar by Norman Jewison. Still my favorite movie of all time…

In this or any time, which real-life figure(s) do you most admire?

Fr Greg Boyle from www.homeboy-industries.org

Fr Greg Boyle

Fr Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who works with 1,100 gangs in East Los Angeles. I recommend listening to a speech he gave in Minneapolis that that aired on Word for Word. It literally changed my life.

Who is your favourite fictional hero?
Underdog. Go figure.

What fault can you most easily forgive?
Selfishness and running off at the mouth. Cuz those are two of my most repetitious faults.

What fault can you not forgive?
I can’t think of even one thing. I have held hands with murderers, looked them in the eyes and told them they can be forgiven. Jesus freely forgave me — and I’m known in some circles as the rock star of sinners — so who am I to not forgive anyone for anything?

What is your motto?
We are all the same people. Just with different consequences.

How would you hope to die?
Well I’m almost always in the water … so I hope that drowning would be the way for me to go. Although I managed to survive a drowning in Lake Winnipeg when I was very young…

Any last words?
Just to encourage people to stand in the margins with the marginalized. When you stand in the margins besides them…society views them differently. God has me loving (and, yes, I do really love them) crack dealers, thugz, criminals, inmates and their baby mommas and babies and it has changed MY life. You read that right: the marginalized changed ME for the better. And hopefully the other way around but that’s not really the point.


Admit it. You read those celebrity Q&As and you know you’re easily as worthy of being profiled. I know I do, but my friends are way more interesting. So, with nods to the “confession albums” of the late 1800s  made famous by the fabulous Marcel Proust’s answers, to French TV host Bernard Pivot who adapted the questionnaire, to Inside the Actors Studio host James Lipton who gave it another spin and to Vanity Fair, which uses its own elegantly spun version to anchor the magazine’s back pages, I submit for your entertainment and enlightenment, my own version of the Proust Questionnaire, re-retooled for a blog age.



  1. Gaylene is my new hero and not just because she has a Weber barbecue. You go, girl.

  2. mary! the fantasy bbq evening would be epic.

  3. It’s a real shame that in the process of finding her bliss, gaylene decided to turn away from some of her friends. I don’t really know what, if anything, I did.

    we used to do a lot of fun things together. Just recently Robert and I was re-reading this old blog post about our road trip to Minni to see Sigur Ros. Gaylene was our food guide to the city.


    Everything about this questionnaire reminds me of what I miss about Gaylene.

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