Every few days, my daughter and I talk about the nonfiction universe we inhabit. We talk of reading, thinking, reporting and writing. We talk about humor and craft. Sometimes we segue into debates about work ethic. Almost always, we veer into discussions about race and privilege and perceptions about privilege. A few days ago, she told me about an upcoming in-person interview. She said it gave her butterflies in the stomach.
The child resembles her father almost completely—in mind, in spirit, in looks. He gave her his deep voice, his incisive mind, his nonporous logic, his doggedness in arriving at solutions to problems step-by-step, his mile-long, self-effacing smile and his goat eyes. She got my handwriting and not her father’s—his look like rat droppings—and my skewed way of looking at the world and my sense of tune. But I wish she had inherited one atomic particle of her father’s self-confidence.
The child makes statements like this one below when she attends public talks in which she misses the chance of a lifetime to steal moments with a famous personality. She doesn’t like being reminded of such missed opportunities.
“Mom, how can I just walk up to Atul Gawande and ask him to sign my book? What do I tell him?”
“You just walk up to Atul Gawande and ask him to sign your book,” I say. “And say you are crazy about his writings and you read every line he writes and totally love his work.”
“But that’s weird. Who ever does that?”
“People do that all the time. They just walk up to people they admire.”
“Ugh. I can’t do that.”
“Of course you can.”
“That’s so weird.”
“No, it’s not.”
“But it’s well known that celebrities hate all the fuss.”
“No, they don’t. Everyone loves fans.”
At the end of most such arguments, she reminds me that she’s now half my age and that I too must have been diffident at 25. And then I tell her that self-confidence, even a wee bit of it at just the right time, can open doors. When I put the phone down, I sigh and wonder whether God intentionally forgot the baking powder when he closed the oven door on her. I think all humans need is a pinch of baking powder at conception, just a smidgen. It makes all things inflate.
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