Walking Down the Street Naked

Walking Down the Street Naked: Vol. 1 – Natalie

The last of the first round of interviews is with Natalie, my dear friend who was a teaching assistant with me in grad school. Natalie now teaches English literature at a local high school and is a lifelong Anglophile who single-handedly got me interested in Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and who shares my obsession with WWI. She has an uncanny ability to find name-brand valuables at thrift shops and antique stores, and she occasionally sends me timely Buzzfeed articles, especially when they are about first dates gone terribly wrong.

1. What were you like as a teenager? I was really worried about doing the wrong thing all the time. I had fun with my friends, I was interested in dating, and I had some boyfriends. But mostly I was concerned about the future and what I was going to make of my life more than actually enjoying myself in high school. I don’t think I really had a great time in high school because I was more focused on the future.
2. What have you always wanted? I think I have always wanted love and freedom to do what I want. Those two things drive me. If I feel trapped in a job, or a situation, or a relationship, or anything like that, then I seek ways to try to get away from it. I just want to be able to live my life to experience new places and new things. I think that’s why I like to travel so much, and why I like to learn all the time. And I can’t imagine living without someone that I love. That’s a big part of my life too.
3. When were you most proud of yourself? I think two things: one is when I finished my master’s degree, because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it; it was so horrible and took forever. I finally finished it, and I felt a sense of relief and also a sense of pride. The other thing is more personal: it’s being able to make it through difficult emotional situations and know that I can survive those things without dying. And then feeling stronger afterwards: like I know more about how to be a human being and what it means to be an adult. I feel proud of myself that I was able to do those things without being broken.
4. What advice would you give to your ten-years-younger self? I would tell myself to be more open-minded, and that it’s okay to not have everything figured out in life, because the older you get, the less you feel like you know in some respects, and that it’s okay to feel that way. That you don’t have to have everything taken care of in order to be a responsible person. I would probably tell myself to go and spend time developing who I am as an individual before attaching myself to another person. And I would probably say that I should study abroad or live somewhere else for a while.
5. What is your personal motto? If I boil it down, I would say that life is difficult sometimes, and you just have to do the best you can to live a fulfilling life and to be kind to people. That’s it. That’s the only thing, I think, that’s important. We need more people to be kind in the world. My general goal in life is just to learn as much as I can. That’s why I like to travel and why I like to teach, and why I read: because I like to learn about things like history and people. I’m interested in human relationships.
6. Who do you aspire to be like, and why? I aspire to be the type of person who explores opportunities, has a happy life, and tries new things. I admire people who do that with their lives. People who take risks, challenge themselves, and don’t get stuck doing the same thing their entire lives if they’re not happy doing it. I don’t want to be that type of person. The only person I can think of is Elizabeth Gilbert–I don’t even really like her that much as an individual, but I like her writing–there’s a new book she wrote about creativity. She talks about being creative and living a creative life and taking risks. That’s the type of person I aspire to be.
7. What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you? Whenever my students tell me that they can tell that I care about them, and that they like being in my class because they feel safe there to explore learning. That’s nice, because I really do work hard to foster that type of environment. And that’s something that I take pride in. And I usually have a couple of students every year that tell me that my class made a difference to them in their life. And I like that. I think that’s a reflection of me and what I do in the classroom.
8. What would you do if you knew you could not fail? I would quit my job immediately and start travel writing: travel around and write a book. Or I would like to write for a publication of some sort, where I’m going and eating food and seeing new places. My dream job would be to work for Rick Steves and help him write his guidebooks. He has people that do that! He has certain people he works with that are experts in certain parts of the world. They go around with him and write the different recommendations for the books that he has. That’s what I would want to do. Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about your finances? Because that is the main stumbling block when it comes to trying to live your dreams: the practicality of life. The eating, and having a place to live, and having stability. And if that wasn’t a concern, and I knew that I wouldn’t fail in that respect, I would do whatever the heck I want and it would be amazing.
9. What would you like to be remembered for? The people that I love, that really know me, I would like them to remember me for being wise about things, and for being loyal. And that I made a difference. It’s different with people that I love, my family and friends, and with my students. But I would like my students to remember me for being someone who’s interested in learning and who helps them to be interested in learning. But for family and friends I would like to be remembered for being loyal and loving.


Walking Down the Street Naked

Walking Down the Street Naked: Vol. 1 – Becca

Becca is one of my good friends from high school. We became friends because of our shared nerdiness: in middle school, we competed in the county spelling bee together (don’t talk to us about the words “apothecary” and “mantilla”), and were both on the quiz bowl team in junior high and high school. We also performed together in the community theatre production of The Hobbit. I played a small role as an elf, but Becca was basically the star of the show, performing an all-star rendition of Dwalin the Dwarf.

These days, Becca is a world-class librarian who can explain anything library-related, from how to curate a library print collection, to the importance of library community outreach programs (she especially appreciated my story of finding yoga at the library), to why libraries are superior to Google and Wikipedia. She will also gladly take you on a trip down to Austin, where she got her master’s degree at the University of Texas and also became an expert on breakfast tacos.

1. What were you like as a teenager? Around the age of 13, I was very into Harry Potter and Anne of Green Gables and reading. I wore little necklaces that said stuff like “Superstar” and “Whatever.” And I had–do you remember those ankle stickers that were made of jewels that you could put on your leg? I had one of those. I basically thought I was fly as hell and hot as hell. Then around age 14 I went through puberty and started breaking out all over my entire face. At that point, I stopping thinking I was hot and fly and started thinking I was an ugly little monster. Then 15 through 17, I pretty much hung out with my mom all the time and watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When I was 18, I became a lot more social and really blossomed. It was during that time that I decided to step outside my comfort zone and go to Hendrix instead of ASU. So basically I went from fly as hell, to hating myself, to thinking I’m alright.
2. What have you always wanted? I have always wanted to be a published writer. I was so obsessed with the Literary Festival in high school. I remember the stories that I wrote were always super dramatic, like Lurlene McDaniel-style stories. They were told from a young girl’s perspective, and her sister always had cancer or something. For whatever reason the people that judged it ate it up. They were like, “This is so good.” And I was like, “I am a frickin’ genius.” One year, I got first place in the whole literary festival for fiction. My story had a twist ending: I was out ice skating with my sister. We were skating, and–oh no, is that a thin patch of ice?! And the way the story is written, you’re convinced my sister is gonna fall through the ice: “Oh, the sister is no good at this ice-skating business. Something bad is going to happen to her.” And then I fall through the ice! That was the big twist at the end. I end up getting rescued, of course.
3. When were you most proud of yourself? When I scored a 34 on the ACT. That was probably the most excited I’ve ever been. It was at the beginning of the time when you could check your score online, and they had finally released the score. I had been trying really hard to get a 32 so that I could get the full scholarship to anywhere in Arkansas. But I just could not break that barrier. I got a 31 twice in a row. And I was like “Oh no.” But then I checked the score and was like, “Holy shit! I got a 34! Mom, come here!” I was screaming I was so happy.
4. What advice would you give to your ten-years-younger self? Don’t take your first relationship so seriously. Because it’s very myopic to think that your first relationship is the end-all, be-all of relationships. You should play the field a little more, Sister Child!
5. What is your personal motto? Well, my mantra right now is “Extend grace and compassion to yourself and others.” I say that whenever I’m being really hard on myself.
6. Who do you aspire to be like, and why? I’ve always aspired to be like Anne from Anne of Green Gables. Anne is amazing. She is temperamental. She doesn’t let people walk all over her. She gets angry. She has flaws. But she’s also really compassionate and imaginative and passionate about the things that she loves and the things that she hates. She really hates her red hair initially, but over the course of the series, she comes to love it and appreciate it. She’s vain. That’s one thing that I really like about Anne is that she has all these things that are messed up about her and that are “bad,” but you still adore her and want to be her.
7. What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you? My favorite compliments are always ones along the lines of “You’re unlike anyone else.” Things in that vein. So if someone seems to recognize a uniqueness in me, I really appreciate that, a lot more than somebody saying, “You’re pretty” or “You’re smart.”
8. What would you do if you knew you could not fail? I would definitely complete a manuscript and submit it to a publishing house. I feel like as of now, I’m always in the mindset of, “It needs more work, it needs more work before anyone would ever think about publishing this.” But if I knew that they would accept it in its imperfect state, then I would submit it.
9. What would you like to be remembered for? I admire people that are extremely compassionate. I’m not that, but, to me, that would be something to strive toward. I hope that someday I will be recognized and remembered as someone who really cared about other people.


Walking Down the Street Naked

Walking Down the Street Naked: Vol. 1 – Elizabeth

My first interview for this series is with my dear friend Elizabeth. I first met Elizabeth when we were both working in the English department at the University of Arkansas. These days, she is shining brightly on the executive communications team at the Walmart home office. She will gladly craft a thoughtful response to your handwritten letter to the late Sam Walton anytime.

Here is Elizabeth’s interview, recorded over a year ago on June 3, 2015:

1. What were you like as a teenager? I feel like I can answer that question in two parts: before my mom died and after my mom died. Before my mom died, which was when I was 16, I was super self-absorbed and apathetic about school. And then afterwards I became really driven and responsible. Because my grades had been slipping a little bit. I mean, not bad, but just not–you know, it was like going from As and Bs to As, Bs, and Cs. And my aunt and uncle got on to me about it, and I was like, “I’ll show you. I’ll be incredible.” And then I was basically a straight-A student. I was also deeply religious, which–I sort of wish I had spent a lot of the energy that I spent on that on my schoolwork or something. Or writing, but I’m also sort of glad that I was so into my church, because when my mom died I had that network.
2. What have you always wanted? Attention. Which is embarrassing. And also lots of praise. And my mom was very–and I am like this with George–she was always telling me everything I did was so great. You know, I say to George, “Oh, that is a shoe. You are so smart. You’re the smartest baby!” And my mom was like that too. But the thing is, that’s not really how the world is. Normally nobody really notices when you do something incredible. So then I end up being let down when I think I do something nice for someone and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, that’s nice.” And they’re not like, “Oh my gosh, that’s the greatest thing ever!” I think I probably expect praise more than I give it, which isn’t really fair. But I am really enthusiastic. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this is so amazing!” And I think that’s why we’re friends, because we’re both like that.
3. When were you most proud of yourself? I was really proud of myself for graduating college early and graduating with pretty great grades. It wasn’t a four-point, but I graduated in three years. I don’t necessarily think that it got me any more ahead of the game. But still, that is something I’m really proud of. I graduated Phi Beta Kappa. I still wish I had not have gone to summer school. I sort of wish that I had internships or had more work experience. But I was very proud of those things.
4. What advice would you give to your ten-years-younger self? Okay, 19-year-old self: break up with your high school boyfriend. He was my first real relationship. I got involved with him like six months after my mom died. And I really latched on to him, and it became a pretty toxic relationship. Sort of co-dependent. And I wish I had just broken up with him and dated. I did travel, but I sort of wish I had dated different types of people and not been like, “Oh!” you know, pining after him. I dated him for three years and broke up with him right before I went to England. Which, thank god.
5. What is your personal motto? Be well-bred, well-fed, well-read, and well-wed.
6. Who do you aspire to be like, and why? There was a professor that I really liked. She was really smart and worldly and in excellent shape and pretty. There’s also a really cool woman at Sam’s Club. She’s a senior vice president. Ebony just profiled her. She was a chemical engineer. She invented clear Ivory soap. And then she went on to work at Sam’s. Now, I don’t really necessarily want to do, or could do, any of those things. But I admire them.
7. What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you? A boy that I went to high school with said that every time he read the Harry Potter books, he imagined the character Hermione looking and being just like me.
8. What would you do if you knew you could not fail? Write a novel. I mostly write about my mother and guys I used to date, so I’d probably stick with those topics. But I find it really difficult to come up with plot. I can write about a character, but it’s harder to write about stuff happening.
9. What would you like to be remembered for? I obviously want to be remembered as a good mother, and I want to be remembered for generosity and thoughtfulness and wit. And I want to be someone who will always have an interesting story.


Walking Down the Street Naked

Walking Down the Street Naked: Introduction

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can. The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself, that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.” — Neil Gaiman

I have always been amused by the Proust Questionnaire that Vanity Fair regularly asks of celebrities and that James Lipton adapted for “Inside the Actors Studio,” and a little over a year ago I also discovered Nabokov’s variation, his “questionnaire for the immodest and curious.”

These famous lists of questions, combined with my desire to better know the people in my life, inspired me to create my own personal list of questions (or, occasionally, to borrow directly from the Proust and Nabokov ones) to ask people. I decided to make several sets of question lists, and to ask the same set to a handful of people at a time. I also decided to conduct each interview in person and audio-record the answers, then transcribe them here for your reading pleasure.

I am going to call the posts with these interviews “Walking Down the Street Naked” in honor of the Neil Gaiman quote above, because I hope these questions have drawn out something of the delightful uniqueness and “what exists on the inside” of each of the people they were presented to. Unfortunately there will be no actual walking down the street naked involved. Not in the first set of interviews, anyway. But who knows what the future interview sets may hold?

The following is my first set of questions, which I used to interview three people:

  1. What were you like as a teenager?
  2. What have you always wanted?
  3. When were you most proud of yourself?
  4. What advice would you give to your ten-years-younger self?
  5. What is your personal motto?
  6. Who do you aspire to be like? Why?
  7. What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you?
  8. What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
  9. What would you like to be remembered for?

Come back tomorrow morning to read the first interview!


Matisse’s Dance, a painting that has nothing to do with interviews or Proust or Nabokov and everything to do with drawing and dancing naked and being an orange person.