One of the best days of the month at my house is the day I get paid. A close second is the day my Vanity Fair magazine arrives.
I love that little bundle of glossy pages. Their articles are always in-depth, just a bit out of left field, and highly entertaining. It's the best money you can spend on a magazine, in my mind, because a single issue can last you a full week. Compare that with, say, an US Weekly, which you can read cover-to-cover over a bowl of cereal. If I'm going to allot my subscription allowance, I don't need Ben Bernanke helping me figure out that the Vanity Fair option is a sounder economic decision.
Despite the fact that I love the magazine for its meaty reporting, a highlight for me is actually the shortest piece in the magazine: the Proust Questionnaire that always occupies the last page.
This is a questionnaire that Vanity Fair puts in front of a celebrity or other luminary every month and lets them give their answer to the 20 (or so) questions in 20 (or so) words or less. It was made famous by some French dude in the late 19th/early 20th century named Marcel Proust. Proust didn't come up with the questions; he copped them from a girlfriend's journal and then answered them in a journal of his own. His answers were so apparently awesome that the questions themselves became a touchstone for personality insights. Pretty amazing to have such a stellar answer that the prompting question itself becomes renowned for generations. I bet Willie Shakespeare is exhausted from all the somersaults he's turned by now in frustration for not giving Hamlet an answer to the "to be or not to be" riddle.
Anyway, after Proust copped the questions, it's been an extensive string of copping ever since. A French television host copped them for his guests. Then James Lipton of Inside the Actor's Studio copped them for his celebrity-worship sessions. And yes, now we're coming full circle -- Vanity Fair copped them for a print version of "getting to know you."
Every time I read the questionnaire, I find that I do discover something about the person answering. Mary Tyler Moore is still spunky. British people make a lot of literary references. Almost everyone tries too hard to be (a) deep or (b) light-hearted in a way they want us to understand is deep. People really love their dogs.
Another thing that happens every time I read the questionnaire is that I think about what my own answers would be, and I daydream about the day when James Lipton or Vanity Fair would care to ask me for them.
That day will never come. But as the Mother Superior told Maria when she left the abbey to go nanny for Captain von Trapp, "when the Lord closes one door, somewhere he opens a window."
Yes, that's right. This blog is my window from the Lord. Thanks, Big Guy.
So here we go. I'm going to take the Proust Questionnaire. I invite you to do the same with your loved ones. Or just say your answers to yourself in front of the mirror. Or tell them to your dog. He'll probably appreciate how much you refer to him in your answers.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being with my family with no schedule or deadline or end in sight, and with children who are perfectly and quietly entertained throughout.
What is your greatest fear?
Delay. As in traffic, a long line, or an inbound flight that has yet to land and is throwing my outbound flight completely off schedule.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Helen Keller. Because I, too, will do whatever it takes to read.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
What is your favorite journey?
The one from the delivery room to the recovery room, in a wheelchair, with your arms full of a swaddled little person (who's yours. This isn't a baby-snatching fantasy.)
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
The appearance of it.
Which living person do you most despise?
Politicians. I know that's a class of people, so just pick one and that's my answer.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
"Apparently." And whatever the phrase is that makes up the sound of a fake laugh.
What is your greatest regret?
My senior prom. Long story short, kicked off a slow and steady personal decline. I blame the at-home updo.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
When and where were you happiest?
Pre-marriage and kids, that would be summer camp. Camp Wohelo. You should go.
Which talent would you most like to have?
The ability to inspire goose-bumps with my singing.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My inability to just let go.
If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
The fact that my sisters don't live a stone's throw away.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My two children. And seizing on the opportunity to move back to Maine.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
A stop-light or a stop-watch. Definitely something with "stop" in it. Hopefully not a door-stop.
What is your favorite occupation?
What is your most marked characteristic?
Who are your favorite writers?
The good ones.
Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Jo March from Little Women or Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
Who are your heroes in real life?
Katharine Hepburn and my grandfathers.
What is it that you most dislike?
Waiting. Idiots. Egg white omelettes.
How would you like to die?
Peacefully. And after everybody else.
What is your motto?
Better luck next time.