There are questionnaires that float around the Internet. I'm sure you've seen them. Facebook and Livejournal in particular are overrun with them. They are sometimes very, very long, and ostensibly reveal personal things about whoever has filled them out, but there's also a distance implied. Most people fill them out, pass them on, and then later claim to hate them. I'm going to let you in on a little secret: if you catch me at just the right time, I kind of love them.
Rebecca Rosenblum has recently filled one out, apparently based on a series of "getting to know you" emails that were passed around when she was in her first year of university (we didn't do that at my school; we actually stood in the common area of our dorm and our don made us introduce ourselves and give a little spiel). Not long after, Amy Jones, who blogs exclusively in list form, filled it out as well. Well! With the gauntlet dropped, or rather the bandwagon set in motion, I had to climb aboard.
1. What did you do on your last birthday?
I actually don't remember. I took the evening off, and I think I stayed home and read a book. My friends were busy, so we made plans to meet on another day to celebrate. I had known in advance that it would play out that way, but I was still down about it for a little while (in 2006 I was supposed to spend my birthday with A Certain Young Lady, and she came to my apartment the night before to tell me she wouldn't be coming, because she was going camping with some guy she had just met instead; it was too late to make plans with my other friends, and while it wasn't the first birthday I'd spent alone, ever since then I get melancholy if I can't see people I care about on that day). In the end, though, it was relaxing and stress-free, which made it a good day.
2. Name something awesome about you that you've never been able to market properly.
If there is a piece of information available in the public record and I want to find it, I will find it. I am very, very good at this sort of thing. Long out of print album or film? Yeah, I can find you that. Phone number of a lost love? Yeah, I can find you that. Adoption records? Okay, that last one I found by accident, when I was looking for something completely innocuous, and it even creeped me out. But I found it. (And note to US adoption agencies: lock your shit down, you know? Not everything should show up on Google.) Anyway, if it can be classified as "information," and it's available in the public record (preferably online, but I've been known to go offline for things), then given a little bit of time, I can find it for you. This particular skill, along with training in policy analysis and basically a mind that can't stop trying to find connections between bits of information, actually made me want to apply to work as an analyst for CSIS, but there are other qualifications (like bilingualism) that preclude me from doing such a job.
3. What book do you have to resist trying to force other people to read?
Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, by David Simon. I'm not generally a reader of non-fiction, but that book has been influencing me, directly or indirectly, since I was a teenager. It's just phenomenal, and I think it provides a number of insights about the nature of violence that I just don't know how, as thinking person, you can function without.
4. How good a swimmer are you?
I am a good swimmer, but not a strong swimmer. I took swimming lessons all through my youth, and got as high as the level below lifeguard qualifications, so I'm capable of using all the major strokes, doing basic lifesaving, and so on, but I had a couple otherwise minor health problems that have reduced my ability to breathe. In normal everyday activities it doesn't have an impact on me, except that I can't take in quite as much air through my nose as a regular person. But when it comes to strenuous activities, like swimming and running, I have to work much harder to regulate my breathing and take in enough air. As a result I am a decent technical swimmer, but can't swim for long without having to stop and rest.
5. Ideal pet?
I'm quite fond of cats, and my cat Molly is pretty close to the ideal temperament for living with me. I also really like having a fish tank with neon tetras in it. I find looking at them very soothing.
6. if you don't have to compromise with other diners or pay for extra toppings, what goes on the pizza?
I am about to impart to you the most epic pizza ever. Behold: pepperoni, red onions, artichokes, tomatoes, and goat's cheese in lieu of regular cheese, all with an herb-heavy sauce and a thin but firm crust. Go forth and rejoice in your new-found pizza glory.
7. Can you, in your own estimation but also the viewpoint of the real world, sing?
No. Not even a little.
8. What are you wearing right now?
Boxer-briefs and a blanket. But I'm writing this within minutes of waking up, and I absolutely do not ever get dressed before my morning shower.
9. When, in your opinion, is it appropriate to chew gum?
Well, on your own personal time, clearly, but I'm okay with it if you're at work and have a job that doesn't involve contact with customers (or if it does, then it's only okay if you're at someplace relatively informal that doesn't involve food or whatever, like a gas station) or lots of verbal communication between employees. I think it's perfectly acceptable where I work, for example.
10. What book did you read as a teen that made you realize how smart and misunderstood and *deep* you are?
I don't know that reading did that for me as a teenager. It was more music. I really enjoyed reading as a teenager (and, believe it or not, Carol Shields' The Stone Diaries absolutely blew me away), but music was definitely where I turned to plumb emotional depths.
11. What magazine would you never buy yourself but always sort of hope is in the stack at the doctor's office?
Back when the Foth was still writing the back page, it was Maclean's. These days I bring a book, because there aren't really many general-interest magazines that I think are worth reading that I don't already subscribe to.
12. Can you bake a pie?
No. I can't bake worth a damn.
13. Who lives next door to you? What is your relationship like?
There's only one apartment per floor in this building. I don't really know the people directly above me, except they shift on a regular enough basis for me to believe they are students, and with one exception they've been pretty good about noise, and we just ignore each other. The guy on the top floor is a record producer or something, and he is a huge asshole, getting into everybody's business all the time, largely because he's been in the building the longest and can. Nobody likes him, not even the landlord. The building next door houses a gaggle of female university students in the basement, who have recently acquired a yappy dog, and some new tenants upstairs that I haven't met yet.
14. What is the easiest way for you to learn a new skill?
Depends. If it's a physical skill or a language, show me a few times one-on-one, and then give me lots of time to practice, or even better, lots of time where I have no choice but to practice, and give me regular feedback. If it's something like an analytical skill, then I learn best from a regular classroom, or if it's something I'm really interested in, time alone with a stack of reference material and the tools necessary to practice will usually do the trick.
15. What is that book you keep meaning to read and haven't, and feel bad about every time it comes up in conversation?
Doesn't really work that way for me. I generally don't give a damn about whatever book is "hot" at the moment, and that's usually what the conversation is about. I'm not interested in what's new as a reader, I'm interested in what's good, so my reading list jumps all around from one era to another, regardless of what the "conversation" is doing.
16. What are you listening to right now?
My fridge is making some noise, and so is my dehumidifier.
17. Do you remember what you wore on the first day of high school? If so, what? If not, substitute some other important day when you remember what you wore.
I probably wore jeans and t-shirt on my first day of high school, because that's what I always wore back then (I have much more vivid memory of what my deskmate, Lisa, was wearing, but that's largely because I fell in love with her the instant I laid eyes on her, which lasted all through high school, and I still get that twinge a little when I think of her today). I do remember that I wore a suit on New Year's Eve 2007, which was possibly the happiest day of my entire life. In fact, you can see a photo of me, taken on that day by A Certain Young Lady, on my About page.
18. What are you doing tonight?
Not sure. Probably some reading, some writing, watching some television.
19. What's the last thing you ate?
I had a slice of pizza last night.
20. Why did you do this questionnaire?
I find I often cannot resist these things.