( I do this questionnaire once a year. It’s fun to see how things change, what remains the same, and it always gives me pause. It is most famous for appearing at the end of each issue of Vanity Fair magazine and is featured on Inside the Actor’s Studio. )

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

2010: Laughing.

2011: Not waking up alone.

2012: Laughing until my guts hurt with Ian.

2013: The mornings when neither Ian and I have to get up for work, the sun is shining in our bedroom window and there’s the promise of coffee and a warm shower.

2014: Five more minutes in my warm, cozy bed when my pain is at a minimum and my imagination, at max.

2015: When my dog does her happy-butt dance and when I go to sip my coffee, it’s still warm.

2. What is your current state of mind?

2010: Nostalgic.

2011: Sleepy.

2012: Schemeing.

2013: Calm.

2014: A bit frazzled.

2015: Inexplicably sad.

3. What is your greatest fear?

2010: That I’m not the smartest person in the room.

2011: Not being able to pay my bills.

2012: Losing Ian.

2013: That I’m only 22 and I’ve already felt such a great deal of pain; how much can I handle?

2014: Dying before I get old.

2015: The inevitable heat-death of the universe. Actually, no. I’m not really afraid of anything anymore. Que sera sera.

4. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

2010: I give up on people too easily.

2011: I’m stubborn in ways that hurt me.

2012: I can’t relax.

2013: When I get angry, I say horrible things.

2014: Avarice — about my time, my energy, my books. . .

2015: I can’t for the life of me keep my car, or my house, clean. I’m literally a hopelessly filthy person and I don’t even notice it.

5. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

2010: Lateness.

2011: Laziness.

2012: A sense of entitlement.

2013: The same I deplore in myself: unwarranted verbal cruelty.

2014: Pettiness.

2015: I’d say lateness but I’m slowly realizing that on-time people are late to me.

6. What is your greatest extravagance?

2010: Books and coffee.

2011: Books and coffee. ☺


2013: Still books and coffee, probably always will be! ☺

2014: Books, coffee and sleep.

2015: Books, coffee and fanfiction.

7. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

2010: Patience. If you wait too long, you lose your grip.

2011: Chastity. Make your own assumptions.

2012: …still Chastity.

2013: Being excessively humble.

2014: Excessive temperance. Moderation should be in moderation!

2015: Patience, I think. I hate waiting.

8. What is it that you most dislike?

2010: Being condescended.

2011: Being too warm.

2012: White countertops.

2013: The dark months of the year.

2014: Cold coffee that’s gone stale.

2015: Rogue endometrial tissue.

9. On what occasion do you lie?

2010: To avoid looking incompetent.

2011: To avoid confrontation.

2012: So that other people won’t be afraid.

2013: When I’m trying to stall.

2014: To keep other people happy, content, avoid their anger.

2015: To permit small children to keep their magic a little longer.


10. What do you dislike most about your appearance?

2010: My profile.

2011: Everything.

2012: My nose.

2013: My profile is still pretty. . .unsettling.

2014: I still dislike how I look in profile. I guess I’ll never be happy with it.

2015: I don’t recognize the person I am; my physicality has changed so dramatically that I’m still figuring it out.

11. What is the quality you most like in a man?

2010: Drive. Motivation.

2011: Ian’s Ian-ness.

2012: Kindness.

2013: Loyalty.

2014: Independence, maturity.

2015: Preferably someone who appreciates their solitude.

12. What is the quality you most like in a woman?

2010: A good sense of humor!

2011: Wisdom.

2012: Athleticism.

2013: Maternal.

2014: Straight-forwardness, no talking behind other women’s backs.

2015: Vulgarity. I’m starting to appreciate it in myself, too.

13. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

2010: I think it’s easier for others to say. I know there are many phrases I repeat ad nauseum.

2011: Shit I saw on the internet.

2012: “True facts.”

2013: When I’m at work: “Thanks for your patience!”

2014: “Womp” — I say it to absolve social situations of their awkwardness.

2015: Currently, “I’m working on a book. . .”

14. What or Who is the greatest love of your life?

2010: Coffee. Really, I’m an esteemed coffee drinker.

2011: Ian, but sometimes I cheat on him with coffee. Coffee’s my old flame these days.

2012: Aside from still being in love with Ian, I’ve had a lifelong love affair with literature that I’m trying to recapture.

2013: Other than Ian, of course. . .I’d have to say coffee and books.

2014: Saying this is a single woman: myself, or at least, I’m trying to love myself that much.

2015: Hillary. We’ve been best friends for 20 years. That’s better than any marriage could ever hope to be.


15. When and Where were you the happiest?

2010: The early days of my adolescence, among friends.

2011: I’m not sure I’ve truly been happy yet.

2012: The year I spent at Sarah Lawrence.

2013: I think right now. ☺

2014: The year I was at Sarah Lawrence, for sure. Before I got sick.

2015: I still do think that first year at Sarah Lawrence. I’ve yet to be that happy and in some ways, I doubt I’ll ever be that happy again. Mostly because I’ll never be that person again.

16. Which talent would you most like to have?

2010: I wish I could cook !

2011: Guess what? Now I can cook. Now I have to learn proper chemistry.

2012: I wish I played a sport.

2013: Mental math! Or even math on paper. . .with a calculator!

2014: I’d love to be a fundamentally tidy person — I wish I could “keep house” as they say.

2015: Well, tidiness still but I also really wish I could whistle.

17. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

2010: Getting in to Sarah Lawrence. Making it through the first year with stellar grades.

2011: Living twenty years.

2012: Having the same best friend for sixteen years. ☺

2013: My relationship with Ian. I need to appreciate it more, sometimes it’s easy to take for granted.

2014: Having the same best friend for almost twenty years.

2015: Well, speaking at Stanford and getting a literary agent ain’t too shabby at the vernal age of twenty-four.

18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

2010: I’d be a little less scared.

2011: I’d stop caring about my weight.

2012: I’d have more compassion for myself.

2013: I’d love to have more energy!

2014: I’d be a little more care-free.

2015: I would have loved my first love more.

19. If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

2010: I’d want to be a chimpanzee.

2011: I’d like to be a very happy, very loyal, very athletic dog.

2012: Something that likes to burrow, so maybe a gopher?

2013: A coffee maker. I’d happily sniff myself all day.

2014: I think I’d like to have another go at being a person — but a bro next time.

2015: If I could choose, I’d still like to be a man on the next go-round, but if I didn’t have a choice I’m sure I’m destined to be some kind of toothy woodland creature.

2013 — with my nephew, Jax.

20. What is your most treasured possession?

2010: I have a box of things that I treasure and take from place to place.

2011: Still have the box, still hauling it around.

2012: SAME BOX! A few new additions to it.

2013: Still that same box — it’s my heritage.

2014: That same box — still in my closet.

2015: Same fucking box.

21. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

2010: Humiliation of any kind.

2011: If Ian died.

2012: If Ian died & I was nowhere near my friends or family.

2013: If Ian died, I was nowhere near family and friends AND there was no coffee.

2014: None of things I previously listed, oddly enough. I lost the man, lost some people and have been without coffee. So, I guess I have to define a new all-time-low.

2015: I just can’t stop thinking about the fact that Donald Trump is running for President and people might actually vote for him.

22. What is your most marked characteristic?

2010: My Julia Roberts teeth.

2011: My acerbic wit.

2012: Teeth or eyes I’d say.

2013: Physically? Eyes or teeth. Personality? Sense of humor.

2014: My teeth and probably my sense of humor.

2015: Teeth and, now anyway, my spectacles.

23. What do you most value in your friends?

2010: A remarkable sense of humor. Good hugs.

2011: Easy going personalities, like to sit down.

2012: Good listeners.

2013: Being good at staying in touch and understanding how much I SUCK at it.

2014: The ability to laugh at the same stupid shit that makes me laugh.

2015: Understanding that when it seems like I’m putting work ahead of everything, including them, it’s not because I don’t love them, it’s because I am locked in an unhealthy obsession with achievement that I haven’t figured out how to escape yet.

24. Who are your favorite writers?

2010: John Irving, Ann Lamott, Dickens.

2011: Joyce Carol Oates, Mary Karr, Oliver Sacks.

2012: Marya Hornbacher, Mary Karr, Anne Sexton.

2013: Mary Roach, E.O. Wilson.

2014. Anne Sexton, Mary Roach, Mary Karr, Joyce Carol Oates.

2015: Anne Sexton, Mary Karr, D.H. Lawrence, Chris Bohjalian.

Long hair, don’t care: 2013

25. Who is your favorite hero of fiction?

2010: Dana Scully. I still identify with her. My only childhood idol that I can truly say that of.

2011: Probably still Scully, actually. I think I’ll always sort of feel she’s part of who I am.

2012: I can’t believe I’m saying this but in ways, it’s still Scully and it probably always will be.

2013: Yup; still Scully.

2014: Scully! Eternally, seriously, what a role model.

2015: Scullaaaay. X-Files revival happening this year, man. My loyalty has paid off and then some. Also, this year, I found a more current (if not significantly older) role model in Elsie Hughes. Interestingly enough she’s the kind of woman I would gravitate toward in real-life for advice, learning the ropes of womanhood, etc. Whereas Scully was more the type of woman I hoped to become. I’ve failed my younger self in that regard, but I admire the dream.

26. Which historical figure do you most identify with?

2010: Jane Goodall ☺

2011: Jackie O.

2012: I still feel connected to Jackie O. I find I relate to any woman who wanted more.

2013: All women scientists!

2014. I still feel a connection to Jackie Kennedy — I have yet to shake that. I think I also connect to the early women of science who fought to have their perspectives and ideas heard.

2015: Barbara Pym.

27. Who are your heroes in real life?

2010: Basically any woman who stands up for herself.

2011: Everyone I’ve known in this big life, really.

2012: The little girls on the playground who make the boys let them play kickball too.

2013: Anyone who has sacrificed something of themselves for love.

2014: Hillary — watching her become a mother has been an incredible gift to me and I admire her so much.

2015: I would have an easier time listing people I don’t find heroic.

28. What are your favorite names?

2010: Noah, Riley, Thea, Civry, Brenna.

2011: William Philip, Samantha May. Still like Noah & Thea. ☺

2012: Gavin Miles, Nola, Noelia, Natalie.

2013: Loa, Gavin, William, Lennon.

2014: Ettie, Noah, Jessamine, Remember (“Mem”)

2015: Elsie, Ethlyn, Jo, Noah, Henry, Rhodanthe, Clea, Roz.

29. What is your greatest regret?

2010: Not letting go when I should have.

2011: I haven’t taken enough stupid risks.

2012: I didn’t have enough fun as a teenager. I worried too much.

2013: I have said some horrible things in anger.

2014: I haven’t been having a very fun life.

2015: I’ve run away from more things than I’ve run toward.

30. How would you like to die?

2010: Doing something nice.

2011: While people are laughing at a joke I told.

2012: Quickly & quietly.

2013: After the last page of a very satisfying book.

2014: Gently, in my warm bed.

2015: Ready.

Abby Norman is just another writer/asshat on Twitter. She’s an editor at The Coffeelicious and a frequent contributor to Human Parts. She lives in Maine with her dog, Whimsy, in a very Grey Gardens type situation. She’s represented by Tisse Takagi and is currently working on a memoir.

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