Judging by the Questions–In Which I Make Inquiries of You and Others

Dear Lily June,

It was Voltaire, a 17th century French writer and philosopher, who wrote that we should

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”

I wholeheartedly concur with that sentiment. Even in my third decade on the planet, I find that the longer I live, the less answers I have, and the more my questions abound. And I have the blogger Paradox to thank for giving me a reason to ask more questions. By way of appreciation, I offer to her (and to you, Lily) one of my favorite poems, “Snow” by David Berman, driven as it is by questions rather than answers:



Walking through a field with my little brother Seth
I pointed to a place where kids had made angels in the snow.
For some reason, I told him that a troop of angels
had been shot and dissolved when they hit the ground.
He asked who had shot them and I said a farmer.
Then we were on the roof of the lake.
The ice looked like a photograph of water.
Why he asked. Why did he shoot them.
I didn’t know where I was going with this.
They were on his property, I said.
When it’s snowing, the outdoors seem like a room.

Today I traded hellos with my neighbor.
Our voices hung close in the new acoustics.
A room with the walls blasted to shreds and falling.

We returned to our shoveling, working side by side in silence.

But why were they on his property, he asked.

Sh2-106, an emission nebula and a star formation region in the constellation Cygnus, is sometimes referred to as The Celestial Snow Angel, Lily.


But to get to the task that Paradox has set me, here are the rules for the Liebster Award:

If you’re nominated and choose to accept it – you

  • answer 11 questions given to you by your nominator;
  • leave a link back to the person who nominated you;
  • nominate up to 11 blogs that are relatively new (usually less than 200 followers);
  • notify your nominees; and
  • create 11 questions for the nominees.


So, Lily, here are some answers to some questions posed to your mother. I hope they cause you to ask the same questions of yourself.

1) What is the strangest thing you’ve encountered? ( A person, an experience, a story)

The physics of baby bowel movements. Somehow, my darling daughter, you manage to poop forward and pee backwards. Given the placement of your organs, I find that to be an awe-inspiring feat. Your dad once had to clean poo out of your belly button with a Q-tip. Stop reading this right now to give him a hug. He’s earned it.

2) What is your favorite food?

Pumpkin roll. But not just any pumpkin roll: my mother’s, your Grandma Raelyn’s, recipe. She’d make one every year for Thanksgiving, and I loved it so much, sometimes I’d ask for a second one in December instead of a birthday cake. I associated it with her, and with my affection for fall, with sweetness, and with and jack-o-lanterns and the darkness of November at the crack of dawn when she’d wake to make the feast for our family. It tastes, to me, like memory. I will teach you to make it someday.

3) What do you value in a friend / what do you think makes  a good friend?

A willingness to attend the events with you that no one else wants to be at. Burials for birds. Pity parties. Moving day, even without the promise of pizza.

4) What was the best book you’ve read, and why?

I agree with the character of Danielle in Ever After on this one. Prince Henry tells her to pick a book, and she replies,

“I could no sooner choose a favorite star in the heavens.”

But for all that, probably the book I’ve read most in my life is J. D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. It stars two siblings too intelligent for the world around them. The brother, Zooey, reacts to this by becoming too callous. The sister, Franny, reacts to this by becoming too sensitive. But when Franny has a breakdown, Zooey has to reach into his heart–and past his dysfunctional upbringing amongst the other genius siblings of the Glass family–to save her. His tactic to do this always touches me, and the depiction of their mother, Mrs. Glass, is perhaps one of my favorites of literary history.

It kills me that this was also my least favorite teacher in high school's favorite book, too.
It kills me that this was also my least favorite teacher in high school’s favorite book, too.

5) If there was one mythical/ fantasical / non-existent thing/ invention or creature that you wished existed, what would it be?

In Douglass Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, there’s a moment where the main character, Arthur Dent, uses a device called the Infinite Improbability Drive. Without getting into too many details, it causes two things to be created in the atmosphere above an alien planet, which will promptly plummet towards their deaths. One is a sperm whale who has many thoughts about his existence and impending doom as he falls. The other is a bowl of petunias, which has a single thought: “Oh no. Not again.”

I wish that bowl of petunias was real so I could ask it what it meant by that. After all, as Adams writes, “Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the universe than we do now.”

6) How would you define beautiful?

You, Lily. Always and infinitely you. Whatever makes you unique in this world is what makes beauty. Your almost imperceptible and unfathomably adorable coo-snore. The way your eyes shine with the light of every star in the cosmos when you wake up at four in the morning, illuminating our entire dark apartment. The way your mouth rounds into the flawless O of wonder and awe. Beauty is you, my darling daughter. It’s not what you look like–it’s who you are.

So in a broader, more universal sense, beauty is the spiritual manifestation of your love jettisoned into another’s physical appearance. Whomsoever you love in this world is the most beautiful person on the planet. (And all of our lives would be enriched if we tried to see everyone through the eyes of even familial love.)

7) Who inspires you, and why?

Your father, Lily. He is tirelessly selfless–for his students, for his family, for you and I. He works like mad, makes dinner for your mother, cares for you all day, and never complains about what it takes to nurture everyone he’s ever met. Almost no one has spoken to your dad without revealing some great secret truth about themselves to him. He puts everyone on that planet at that kind of ease. And he’s a brilliant poet.

8) What are your thoughts on feminism?

Yes, please.

I agree with Amy Poehler. In an interview with Elle, she was asked about those who currently reject the term feminism–the idea that everyone, regardless of gender, should be treated equally. And of that rejection, she said,

“I don’t get it. That’s like someone being like, ‘I don’t really believe in cars, but I drive one every day and I love that it gets me places and makes life so much easier and faster and I don’t know what I would do without it.'”

9) What is one thing that you wish you could change about yourself, and why?

The fact that, in response to that question, I can think of so many more things than one. I wish I could love myself enough to be able to narrow it down to only one thing I’d change. And then I wish I could begrudgingly accept that one thing, too.

10) Where is your favorite place to be, and why?

In my own home where Beauty (you, Lily) and Inspiration (your father Ryan) live. I am terribly shy and afraid of the world, and I put on a public persona to get by. But at home, there are no masks and no fears. There is just love and comfort.

11) If you had to wear just one color for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Black. It is the complete absorption of light.


I have no idea whose blogs are “relatively new,” so I’ll just recommend those who always have something new, in my mind, to say. And my nominees are:

  • ShitHappens2U–This woman wrestles with Crohn’s, and she wins the match every time with her senses of wit and wisdom.
  • &OtherLongStories–She taught me to think of my body as a home rather than a skin prison.
  • TheSpectacledBean–She has all three of the qualities she once wrote about: spunk, gumption and moxie.
  • AlliePottsWrites–As her blog’s tagline goes, she makes me “appreciate the everyday” in a way that makes each moment new.
  • WhiskeyCat–Loving her cat. Losing her mother. Leaving a commune. Every topic she talks about touches me deeply.

And the questions I pose to these fine bloggers are these, the same I would pose to my daughter someday:

  1. Here’s the Lorelai question, posed to her daughter Rory every year on her birthday: What do you think of your life so far?
  2. What’s the cruelest thing you could do to another human being?
  3. How do you avoid doing #2?
  4. What’s the kindest thing you could do for other human beings?
  5. How do you get motivated, or motivate others, to do more of #4?
  6. What do you dream about at night?
  7. What do you daydream about during the day?
  8. If you could go back and choose it, what would your first word be?
  9. If there were anything you could remember about your life as a baby, what would be your chosen memory?
  10. Why are we so quick to pose questions, and so slow to listen for the answers?
  11. If you had to ask yourself one question each day to take stock of your life, what would that question be?

Picture Credits:

11 thoughts on “Judging by the Questions–In Which I Make Inquiries of You and Others

  1. marvel.child says:

    You didn’t disappoint! I was wondering afterward how would the questionnaire work out with your letter format but you morphed it into a letter very well 🙂 and #1 really made me laugh. I have a niece and I always laugh when her mother exclaims at where the poo or wee traveled to.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s