Know Thyself: 25 Questions

Today, I had planned to meet one friend for morning coffee, and another for afternoon tea — but both of them are sick and needed to cancel. My husband and son have been coughing for weeks, and my daughter has just texted from school to say that she has a migraine and feels achy.

Ah, winter. You and your viruses. Trying to play a little farce with me and my peeps. You think you can sicken a McKitty? I’m washing my hands every six minutes. I’ve got my medicine cabinet stocked with elderberry syrup and zinc lozenges and oscillo…whatever the hell it’s called. So g’head. Do your worst. (I realize that I’ve just jinxed myself by typing this, and fully expect to be bedridden by Wednesday. Do I feel hot to you? Kiss my forehead.)

For an only child, a homebody, an introverted extrovert and a writer, the silver lining in cancelled plans is an opportunity to putter alone at home, and write. Especially when it’s blustering outside, and the makings of a steamy mug of matcha green tea are all within easy reach in my kitchen. There’s no other choice, really, but to put my ass in a chair and write it all down. I’d say that hygge is happening here, but that’s so 2017. Let’s just say I’m treating myself to a cozy hour or two indoors.

Sometimes, a good old-fashioned list of questions can prompt me to write — much like this list that I came across this morning. I haven’t blogged much lately, either. Figured it was a good day to do a little bit of both. So, then — my answers to 25 questions. Perhaps mine will prompt your own answers as well. Write them down. See where they take you.

25 QUESTIONS

1. What does your ideal day look like? Waking refreshed and energetic on a mild summer morning, with the windows open and the sun streaming into my bedroom. Meditating for a few minutes and sipping some tea. Spending some time laughing, snuggling or talking with my two children. Working out while listening to a great playlist, until I’m spent and sore and high on endorphins. Possibly with the kids and the dog, if they feel like coming along. Taking a long, hot shower and doing some sort of stretching thingie afterwards that releases my muscles and makes me feel good. Having a good hair day after time spent blow-drying and curling my hair. Having time to write down all of the ideas that popped into my head while I was exercising and showering, then going to eat a brunch-ish midday meal with my husband somewhere in Manhattan — and making him laugh the entire time. Visiting a museum or going to a matinee with him afterwards, and walking all over the city to window shop and grab coffee and sit on stoops and look at all the life around us. Running into Jon Hamm or Chris Hemsworth or Michael Palin or Tom Hardy in a small boutique and having them ask me to try on a dress or an item of jewelry, because I remind them of their wife/girlfriend/mistress — but that my eyes are even bluer, more intense, and that I’m even more beautiful. Catching them take a second glance at me as the shop doorbell tinkles behind me, and I decline and walk out happily with my husband. Eating dinner somewhere wonderful with my husband and a large group of friends, somewhere candlelit and quaint and delicious and relaxed, with bread and wine and laughter. Hugging a lot of people. Seeing a viewing of “The Graduate” or “When Harry Met Sally” or “The Producers” or “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” or “The Pope of Greenwich Village” or “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” or “Moonstruck” or “Cinema Paradiso” or “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” or “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” or “The Godfather: Parts I and II” or “Casablanca” or “Rear Window” or “On the Waterfront” or “12 Angry Men” or “The Best Years of Our Lives” or “A Night at the Opera” at the Film Forum after dinner. Finding a place in the Village to have rounds of drinks and cappuccino and cannoli. Going to a late-night secret concert with Elton John or Neil Young or Patti Smith or the Avett Brothers or Dawes or Van Morrison (if he’s in a good mood) at a small, intimate venue. Buying the Sunday Times at a newsstand before we head back home. A late-night lavender and Epsom salts soak with a coconut oil finish. Not being too tired to have really great and life-affirming sex when we get into bed. Falling asleep immediately afterwards, knowing all the while that tomorrow is Sunday and that we can sleep in.

2. What did you want to be when you were younger? A Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time cast member of “Saturday Night Live,” circa 1975-1978. A writer. A playwright. An actor. A drummer.

3. Who are you most inspired by? Why? Many people, but most of all, my husband — by his calmness, his kindness, his capacity to love, his faithfulness, his work ethic, and his willingness to keep trying.

4. Who would you love to meet? What would you ask? I’m really shy about meeting my heroes. Terrified, actually — that it would all be a letdown, or that they’d give me a dirty look or not like me very much, or be nothing at all like I imagined. If I got over all of that, then I’d love to meet all four Beatles and most of Monty Python and Katharine Hepburn and Abraham Lincoln and Tina Fey and Jon Hamm and Gilda Radner and Alice McDermott because she somehow writes my family’s stories and Keith Moon and Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and Paul Newman and Levon Helm and Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau — and now I’m nauseous at the thought of it, so, no. Forget about it.

5. What habit would you most like to break? What habit would you most like to start? I have several habits that I’d like to break, which mostly revolve around overusing my smartphone, zoning out on social media, and  procrastinating. Also? Being an asshole to myself, and being unkind to myself. I’d like to start a daily habit of meditation, stretching and writing practice. I don’t do that every day, and the daily habit would help me to be calmer and more productive.

6. Think of a person you truly admire. What qualities do you like about that person? See #3.

7. How do you like to relax? Reading, listening to music, napping, daydreaming

8. When was the last time you did something you were afraid of? The last time I got on a plane.

9. What are you most proud of? Breaking the cycle of dysfunction, addiction and abuse. Being saner. Working hard at and nurturing the fuck out of a 20-year marriage. Raising two self-aware, kind, and funny human beings.

10. What are you most afraid of? Dying young — before my children are grown, before I’ve said what I’ve wanted to say, before I’ve fully lived my life.

11. If life stopped today, what would you regret not doing? Being too afraid to tell my stories, for fear of criticism and alienating others.

12. Who would you like to connect (or reconnect) with? Why? My grandparents, who have all passed away. I’d love to visit with them again.

13. What qualities do you admire in others? Kindness, self-awareness, humility, tenderness, a sense of humor, bravery, honesty, loyalty, gentleness, compassion, a desire for knowledge, empathy.

14. What practical skills do you wish you had? I wish I could easily change a flat, and perform more expert auto and home repair. I feel like I’m getting screwed whenever I drop my car off for servicing or hire a handyman to do something. I also wish I was better at math. I have math-phobia. Serious math-phobia.

15. Imagine you’re in your 90s. What memories would you like to have? What stories do you want to tell? I’d like to have memories of a happy family life with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a strong and loving marriage, a long-standing and ever-widening circle of friends, a productive creative career, and a lifetime of travel and experiences. I want to think that I was kind and brave and authentic.

16. What is your favorite book/movie/song? Why?

Book: impossible to say. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Charming Billy, A Sport and a Pastime, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, To Kill a Mockingbird, Raymond Carver’s Where I’m Calling From…

Movie: can’t name one. Godfather Parts I&II, Moonstruck, When Harry Met Sally, Marx Brothers, the Pink Panther series, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Producers (1968), Napoleon Dynamite, Cinema Paradiso, All the President’s Men

Song: oh, honestly. Depends on the mood, day, year. Some are Van Morrison’s St. Dominic’s Preview, Fleetwood Mac’s Secondhand News, years of the Beatles (Dear Prudence, Good Day Sunshine, Hey Jude, Hello Goodbye, Something, Don’t Let Me Down, Here Comes the Sun, Let It Be, Two of Us, The Long and Winding Road, Oh! Darling, Golden Slumbers, All You Need is Love), the Stones (Loving Cup, Sympathy for the Devil, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Wild Horses, She’s a Rainbow, Dead Flowers, Shine a Light), The Who’s Substitute, The Clash’s Train in Vain, Should I Stay or Should I Go, Toots and the Maytals’ 54-46 Was My Number, Johnny Nash’s I Can See Clearly Now, Allman Bros. Please Call Home, Simon & Garfunkel’s Only Living Boy in NY, The Boxer, Traffic’s Empty Pages, We Five’s You Were on My Mind, Jackson C. Frank’s cover of Blues Run the Game, The Band’s Cripple Creek and cover of Don’t Do It, Elton John’s Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, Big Star’s Motel Blues — see? And that’s just today. Impossible to choose.

17. If you could make one change in the world, what would it be? For war and hatred to end. For humanity to live in equanimity and peace, and view itself as one sentient species of being — without the discrimination of boundaries, nationalities, class, wealth, religion, sexuality or gender to limit us from accepting and loving each other.

18. What do you love to do for, or give to others (not an object — something from you personally)? I love to love people. It sounds corny, but it’s true. I feel like I can heal the tiny paper cuts of life when I do so, and can better things somewhat. I was raised to be so tough, to be a rock and an island, to be so disconnected from others. At 47, I’ve learned how powerful and how healing my feminine ways can be. I can cook and soothe and scratch and hug and bake and listen and stroke and cover with a blanket and laugh and bring you soup and whisper and sit beside you in the midst of grief and encourage and tell you to be kinder to yourself and put out appetizers and drinks when you’re hungry and thirsty and let you sit by the fire when you’re cold and say nothing at all if need be and support you and tell you stories that make you laugh and offer gentleness and kindness. It’s literally taken me years to let that part of myself emerge. I don’t know why I was raised to lock all of that up, but I think it stems from Catholicism and the immigrant mindset and the fear of being labeled as a flirt or a hussy or a trollop — which is so sad to me, because the world needs so much feminine energy to get better.

I also love to write something that others can connect with, nod at, and say yes to. It’s everything for me.

19. What excites you? New York City, music, theater, photography, drum beats, art, color, driving a stick shift, acoustic guitars, Paris, books, making people laugh, his lips brushing my neck — still, after 27 years

20. What do you wish you did more of? I wish I had fewer responsibilities at the moment and could experience more of my life on a whim — i.e., spontaneously saying yes to more invitations and plane tickets and dinners in the city and museum exhibits and weekends in London or Paris and films in bed or at the Film Forum and the Angelika and week-long retreats about writing and meditation and yoga. I also wish I found more time to volunteer. I used to work at an AIDS food bank in San Francisco in the mid-nineties, and it’s selfish but true to say that I gained a great deal from it. I need to do that again — to be of service to others.

21. Pretend money is no object. What would you do? I’m never quite sure what this question means. Does it mean that I am infinitely wealthy? If so, then I’d give most of it away. I’d send kids to college and take care of other people’s expensive medical treatments that insurance plans won’t cover and fund medical research to cure cancer and anonymously pay off mortgages and student loans. But first, I’d probably travel to all the places I’ve always wanted to visit and haven’t yet — across and through America to the Grand Canyon, to Portland and Seattle and Sedona and Ojai; Italy; Austria; Morocco; Thailand; Macchu Pichu; the Great Pyramids; jetting to London and Paris and San Francisco whenever I’d like to visit. I’d love to own a townhouse in Manhattan, a flat in London and a farmhouse in Healdsburg, Sonoma. I’d tell my children to do the same, to travel and decide where they’re most themselves — and I’d pay for their tickets and houses.

22. What area of your life, right now, makes you feel the best? Which area makes you feel the worst? Why? I feel encouraged and positive about my relationships with my husband and teenaged children. We’ve been through a lot of shit together, and the experiences seem to have made our relationships stronger. I feel frustrated about my writing, sometimes. I’m not even sure that I’m meant to pursue writing, that I’m good enough, that I have anything of value or merit to say. I get embarrassed about the fact that I still care about what other people think of me. I’m still a little kid, sometimes. Still insecure.

23. Let’s jump forward a year. What would you like to have achieved in the past year? I’d like to be at a healthier weight and maintaining excellent health. I’d like to have several more essays published, and a first draft of a screenplay written. I’d like a publisher to accept my proposal for a collection of essays. I want to commit to daily meditation and writing practice, and weekly yoga practice. I’d like to have a lighter house, too. Less shit. Less clutter. I was inspired by a recent article where the author had committed to purchasing next to nothing over the course of a calendar year — only necessities like food and basic wardrobe supplies as needed. I’m trying to embrace that philosophy this year. I’d love to have fewer knickknacks, and an empty, organized attic. Swedish death cleaning is my current mantra.

I’d like to have been kinder to myself this year, too. Gentler.

24. What piece of advice would you give to five year old you? Sixteen year old you? Twenty-one year old you? Right now?

Dear Five Year-Old Me: You’re not weird because you’re smart.

Dear Sixteen Year-Old Me: Someone is going to love you, but you need to love yourself first. You are worthy of it. Take more risks. Then, you’ll have something to write about later.

Dear Twenty-One Year-Old Me: You don’t have to be so tough. Take that cigarette out of your mouth. Let people in. Embrace your softness. There’s strength in your gentleness.

Dear Forty-Seven Year-old Me: Don’t put it off. Work towards your passions today, and every day. That’s the only way you’ll reach your goals. Don’t be afraid to screw up, be wrong, look stupid. You’re doing all of those things right now, anyway. Also — stretch more and take more Epsom salt baths. Your Seventy-Year-Old Self will thank you.

25. How do you want to be remembered in life? As a loving, funny, open, giving, wise human being who wrung every drop out of her life, who made mistakes and kept going anyway, who made other people feel a little bit better while she was here on earth, and who smelled really good.

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