The Proust Questionnaire, popularized by the French essayist and novelist Marcel Proust, is said to reveal a person’s true nature through a series of probing, soul-searching questions. In the hot seat today, CINDY BALDWIN, author of the contemporary MG novels, WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW (2018) and BEGINNERS WELCOME (2020), both from HarperCollins Children’s Books.
What is your idea of perfect happiness? Being with my family at the beach, with plenty of reading material and a little dark chocolate! On a deeper level, though, I think of perfect happiness as something that goes beyond perfect moments. It’s a way of life in which I embrace gratitude, wonder, and the recognition that my life is rich and wonderful, even when it gets hard. I may not feel happy every single moment, but I always want to be able to look back and feel satisfied with my life, and the choices I’ve made.
What is your greatest fear? I was born with a serious, life-shortening genetic illness (cystic fibrosis), and due to other health complications (another genetic condition, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, as well as fibromyalgia) I became disabled as a teen. I’ve struggled with the feeling that my life is not very meaningful, because so much of it is spent resting, doing treatments, going to medical appointments, and turning things down when I don’t have the energy. Maybe I’m just a wimp, and I should or could be doing more, or better. I know with my logical brain that none of that is true, but it’s still a very powerful fear! As a young adult, I read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, and one conversation from that book was the first time I’d ever felt truly represented by a piece of literature. In the conversation, one of the characters with pediatric cancer confesses that he’s not so much afraid of dying young; he’s afraid of his life being made meaningless by the fact that almost all of his time and energy was focused on simply staying alive.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Oh man, that’s easy. I am so, so jealous! I really struggle to be happy when people get things I really want but haven’t been able to achieve. Of course, that’s 99 percent of a writing career! I’ve really worked in the last few years to develop coping strategies for my innate jealousy, but it still rears up and catches me off guard sometimes.
What is the trait you most deplore in others? I really struggle when people make choices or harbor opinions that seem, in my view, to lack compassion. I have always had a very keen sense of justice and unfairness, and when people act in ways that I perceive to be lacking in compassion, it makes me really frustrated (and probably overly judgy!).
Which living person do you most admire? Right now I’d say I most admire my little daughter. She’s only six, but she’s had to deal with some pretty grown-up stuff throughout her life, and it’s definitely been a struggle. Seeing her get up every day and go after the things she wants, even when her own mental health is fighting her over it, is incredibly inspiring.
What is your greatest extravagance? I don’t eat cheap chocolate anymore! Life is too short.
What is your current state of mind? I’m not certain exactly how to describe it, so I’ll say poignant. I just started a course of a medication that makes me very emotional, so I’m definitely getting in touch with alllll my feelings!
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Honesty. One of my pet peeves is how so many people say that “honesty” is super important to them, when they largely use it as an excuse to say unkind things to others. I believe in being honest and straightforward, but I also think there are absolutely times you don’t need to say something to a person’s face (or behind their backs)!
On what occasion do you lie? I wouldn’t say I lie a whole ton, but every now and then I’ll pull out a little white lie or “selective” truth-telling, if I think the truth will do more harm than good.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? I don’t have one constant, but I always get into these cycles where I’ll find myself saying the same thing a lot for a few days/weeks/months. I think it just sticks in my brain and then it’s easy to retrieve! Lately it’s been the phrase, on the nose.
Besides writing, which talent would you most like to have? I would love to have the voice of a Broadway singer. If I met Aladdin’s genie right now, I’d totally wish for that.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? There are two: my daughter, and my books. Both are things I’ve spent my whole life wishing for, and not knowing if I could have, because of my health challenges. Achieving both motherhood and authorhood is a huge thing for me!
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? A dolphin!!!
What is your most treasured possession? Either my violin, which I’ve had since I was 12 and absolutely adore (her name is Irene), or my collection of journals. I have something in the vicinity of 25 journals that I’ve been keeping since I was nine or 10, and they’re really precious to me.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Being cold. My internal thermostat is all messed up because of health stuff, and I feel cold very easily. Sometimes my hands and feet will get so cold they physically hurt, and nothing I do warms them up! I also hate darkness, so basically, winter and I are not friends.
What do you most value in your friends? Loyalty and connection. I’ve learned that people have a lot of different friendship styles, and for some people, a friendship is completely satisfying even if they rarely talk to that person. As much as I’ve tried to be like that, it isn’t me. I really struggle with friends who drop out of my life, especially if we were pretty intimate before. I love when I feel like a friend will really stick with me through anything. That’s not to say I don’t understand that everyone will have times of going silent—I certainly do as well! But I struggle when a friendship that has previously had a lot of contact and connection permanently drops away into very rare or nonexistent contact.
Who are your favorite writers? I have a lot, but one that I’ve come back to again and again throughout my life is Madeleine L’Engle. The way she wrote, and the things she wrote about, speak very deeply to my heart. Other favorites are Lloyd Alexander (my #1 favorite as a kid; I actually own nearly all of his books), Sharon Creech, L. M. Montgomery, and Louisa May Alcott.
Who is your hero of fiction? There are tons, but a constant one is Sam Gamgee. He is the best example of steadfastness, love, and perseverance. He’s not the hero of his book, he’s never in the spotlight, but by golly, he gives absolutely everything he does 100 percent and is an absolute wizard at nurturing others and lifting them up. I love him.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? I’m not certain I’ve ever thought about this before! Hmm… This isn’t so much who I identify with, but I love to learn the stories of people who have been forgotten by history, especially women and people from marginalized groups. There’s so few notable women from history in comparison to the number of notable men, and sometimes, learning those stories of women who were integral to history but forgotten by it now can give me insight into my own life, and the ways that I feel overlooked from time to time.
What is your motto? I’m not sure I have a motto per se, but if I did, it might be from 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything, give thanks.” I’m not always great at that principle, but I am a much happier person when I am working on it!
CINDY BALDWIN is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Where The Watermelons Grow and the forthcoming Beginners Welcome. As a middle schooler, she kept a book under her bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing her hair or brushing her teeth, and she dreams of writing the kind of books readers can’t bear to be without. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and daughter. Learn more about Cindy on her website and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and Twitter.