I found this unfinished draft from March 2013, and I loved it because it had a lot to do with what I was already wanting to write about today.
[I wonder about people.
I wonder what they’re like when they aren’t around me.
I wonder what kind of family they grew up in and whether their personality is because of them, or in spite of them.
I wonder what makes them sad.
I wonder what makes them feel alive.
I wonder what ways life has hurt them.
I wonder what they like about themselves.
And there was a time when I used to ask about those things, a time so long ago that I can’t remember how I was ever that brave.
Now I just wonder about them.
I’m too scared to do anything more.]
I have an impressive list of questions I like to use to get to know people. I’ve been asked countless times, “How do you think of that?” and my answer is always that these are the things I genuinely wonder about people.
These are my favorites and what they tell me about you.
1A. What did you want to be when you grew up at age 5?
This tells me what kind of imagination you have, because when you’re five, you have no limits. You don’t care what’s realistic or difficult or what anyone will think of your dreams. You just want what you want. If someone asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, you answer totally honestly.
1B. And when you were 14?
This one will be more realistic than your five-year-old dreams, but still probably more what you truly wanted and less what you think is practical and acceptable.
And if your answer is the same for both and is what you do now, that’s just awesome. I have a friend who never wanted to be anything but a teacher, and now she’s been one for three years and she absolutely loves it. But she seems to be an exception.
2. What’s one book you tell everyone they should read? Do you have one you love so much that you want to keep it to yourself?
I got the idea for this one from the Fault In Our Stars.
Sometimes you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.
That book for me is Daring Greatly. The books people love reveal so much about who they are(so does a response of “I don’t really read much”), plus if they say a book I haven’t read, now I have something new.
And then there are books like An Imperial Affliction, which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.
And that book for me…I won’t say. That’s why the second half of my question is phrased the way it is; if you look back at it, you’ll see it doesn’t require them to tell me what it is if they don’t want to. It also makes it fair for me to choose not to share mine. But, if they tell me theirs, I usually tell them mine. I will never share it with the internet. I probably won’t even reveal it in my own book when I write it someday.
3. What’s something you’re afraid of that you wish you weren’t?
For example, I really don’t mind being afraid of spiders, but I wish I wasn’t afraid of people. And one other fear that I won’t say on the internet. Everybody’s afraid of something that’s not a big deal, but I think everyone has at least one fear that they could really stand to live without. I asked my favorite professor this once and I was so surprised and honored when he actually answered it.
4. Would you rather be blind or deaf?
I read a really beautiful essay by a 20-something girl who’d gone blind when she was 17, about how thankful she was that she’d lost her sight rather than her hearing. Which inspired me to 1)thank God that I still had both and beg him to let me keep them, and 2)write about why I’d hypothetically choose to be deaf. But since both me and the blind girl had such deep and valid reasons for our preferences, I think your choice probably shows a lot about what you value.
5. Tell me something I don’t know about you.
I ask this often, never only once with each person. It’s such a nonthreatening question and your answer can be as deep or as simple as you want it to be. If you want to just say “my favorite color is purple,” or tell me the story behind your deepest fear, anything goes. Occasionally I’ll ask my best friend this, because she’d have to really think for an answer.