Do other Vanity Fair readers out there read the last page first? As soon as VF comes in the mail, I flip to the back, to the Proust Questionnaire, a regular feature in which celebrities are asked to reveal their true selves–even if their true selves drive them to provide flip answers.
The questionnaire is fashioned after a list of queries developed by French writer Marcel Proust, who believed that, in order to know others, we must first know ourselves. It asks things like “What is your idea pf perfect happiness?” and “What is your greatest achievement?” as well as “What do you consider the most overrated virtue?” and “How would you like to die?” Every month I read the responses of the featured celebrity and imagine what my own might be.
When asked which talent they’d most like to have, it’s surprising to me how many would like to play the piano. I would too, though being smarter and being able to sing would be higher on my list.
One of my favorites—an example of a flip response—was, when asked “What do you value most in your friends,” Dustin Hoffman replied, “private planes.”
We all relate to those who deplore cruelty in others and admire hard work. I’ve never related more to any answer than I did to one this month by New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter. To the question, “What is your greatest fear,” he said “Being unprepared.” Bingo.
We’ve all had that dream about going into a final exam after forgetting to go to class for a whole semester. Or being out in public without a stitch of clothing. I also have one in which I’ve neglected a pet too long. Gruesome, I know, but it reflects the depth of this fear I share with Jeter.
Perhaps it comes from showing up at Catholic school without my homework or permission slip, or not taking some of my college courses seriously enough. Somewhere along the way, these experiences of my youth led to some pretty compulsive behavior in my later years: packing three pairs of pantyhose for a one-night trip or leaving the house in perfect order, just in case something happens to me while I’m at 7-Eleven. Never running out of milk or floor wax or Q-tips. Reading the whole paper in the morning, not necessarily because I want to but because someone might ask me about a column or an obituary or the Dow. Getting my car inspected before it’s due and filing my taxes three weeks early. I can’t sleep at night if I don’t have at least an inkling of what I’ll blog about the next morning.
I know nothing whatsoever about Derek Jeter, or the New York Yankees or baseball for that matter. I do know, though, that Jeter’s favorite hero is The Incredible Hulk, that he would come back as an elephant, that he thinks he overuses the word “obviously” and that he hates bullies and his own skinny legs. I’d like to know how he overcomes that fear we both share and if he’s anywhere near as neurotic as I am in compensating for it.
What’s your greatest fear and, just to make me feel normal, what quirky compulsions do you throw at it?