The Questionnaire

At the end of the program "Inside the Actor's Studio" the guests are asked a series of questions that originated with French television host Bernard Pivot. Some of the actors answer the questions genuinely while some find cute answers rather than deep ones. Some of the actors have obviously prepared for the questions and thought of their questions in advance and some are in the moment.

"What is your favorite word?" Like so many of the other questions, I don't have a clue how to answer. I love words and perseverate on different ones at different times. Kim brought "perseverate" home from work one day to describe a patient she was working with. I tend to like shorter words. Common words. Words like "bald" and "smooth". Most of the actors choose a word based on its meaning like "love" rather than on its sound like "matriculate".

"What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?" That's easy. Being a dad. Hanging out and talking to people. Hanging out and not talking to people – just sitting quietly alone or with someone else. As to "What turns you off?", it's probably having someone interrupt that perfect quiet moment by asking "what are you thinking?" Go ahead and interrupt with something as inconsequential as "can you tie my shoe for me" but don't ask what I was thinking.

"What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?" That is a question I've come back to again and again lately. Because, so far, every time I've identified a new profession to try, I've tried it and it's been wonderful. I remember reading the obituaries for Julia Child and marveling at how late in life she began the profession we know her best for. She was in her fifties before she made her television debut in the cooking series "The French Chef".

When she died I was writing a very different sort of daily blog. I was writing the editor's blog for the java.net web site and wrote:

Child made her television debut at 51. She lived and worked another forty years. Are you thinking in terms of that time frame? What is your passion? What is it you would really like to be doing? For me, there are three apps and two books that I really want to write. I look up at the end of each day and think, "wow, that went by really quickly". Child reminded me that there's no rush. I can continue to enjoy what I'm doing now and that there will be time to do more later on.

But what I really learned from Julia Child was to show wrong turns and mistakes and how to fix things. She was an excellent teacher. She would show you what a dish looked like if it wasn't quite right and how to tell. I recently wrote a Java tech tip on threading where I showed how to ensure that the GUI remained responsive. Child taught me to motivate the solution with an example that showed how the GUI can easily be locked up. There is a move to teach Design Patterns earlier in the curriculum. I wonder about teaching students how to use these patterns to avoid problem areas that they have not yet encountered.

I never watched much Martha Stewart. I may be remembering wrong, but it seems to me that everything she did on her show came out right in ways that made me think "I could never do that". With Julia Child, if a cake didn't come out quite right she would show how to mask the problem with frosting. If that didn't quite cover it, then she had some other technique like sprinkling cake crumbs. Like the best developers Child believed in keeping things simple. She would freely show her techniques. She worked with others and acknowledged their contributions. If Stewart made a cake, the implication seemed to be that it was from wheat that she had grown, harvested, and milled herself.

Bernard Pivot's final question was the one for which actors seem to work the hardest to get a funny or deep answer. It's the one they seem to prepare for. I used to wonder how I'd answer it.

"If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?"

If I'm not taken to see Elena immediately, I'll know that something is very wrong.

Published in: on May 2, 2006 at 6:53 am  Comments (6)