Again the answer has to do with my mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 10 and my siblings 5 and 2. I was old enough to understand what was going on, but my little brother and sister could only feel the effects of my parents' stress and grief as the illness returned again and again. Throughout much of our childhood, we lived with the prospect of losing our mother. At the same time, her amazing resilience made us feel as if she must be immortal somehow—as if the grim course of the disease might apply to others but not to her. Her death, even after a 10-year struggle, came as a shock. The greatest challenge, I think, was learning to live in the world without her.
8. What characteristic(s) do you admire most in others?
Generosity and sharpness of mind, particularly when they coexist.
9. What talent would you most like to possess?<br>
The miraculous ability to walk into a room, meet dozens of people and remember their names! I know people who can do this, and I'm speechless with envy. I also want very badly to learn French cookery. And I've been taking tap-dancing classes here in New York. And I'd love to figure out how to be chronically punctual, instead of chronically late.
10. What inspires you most?
My husband's indefatigable work ethic and his basic sweetness and empathy. And my baby boy's perfect, trusting little face.
11. What is your greatest fear?
Two weeks ago, the answer to that question would have been drastically different. I might have said that what I feared most was regret—failing to take a chance on something that might turn out to be wonderful even if the cost was high. Now that my little son is in the world, my deepest fears are all for his safety—by which I mean the more immediate concerns every mother faces, as well as greater concerns for the world he'll grow up to inherit.
12. What gives you hope about the world today?
The grand machinery we've got now for the communication of information. At its best, the Internet can function as a giant empathy engine; by putting us in touch with other human beings all over the world in an intimate way, it might—one hopes!—lead us to act with greater understanding of the impact we have on each other and on our planet.
13. What is your most valued possession?
Maybe it's this ultrasound photo of my little son, taken at 27 weeks. It's the first time I saw him smile.
14. What is one thing you have always wanted?
Another question whose answer has recently changed! Before a few weeks ago, I might have said it was to see my work making its way into the world; though that's still true, as soon as I held this sweet little kid in my arms, I knew that he was what I'd always wanted.
Julie Orringer opens up about her secret guilty pleasures